SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT
A-Holes & Pujols v. Mad Cow Disease
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ALL-STAR FANTASY BASEBALL LEAGUE
Decided June 27, 2011
Cite as 3 F.J. 44 (June 2011)
A rotisserie fantasy baseball league called the Southern California All-Star Fantasy Baseball League (“SCAFBL”) is a mixed NL-AL non-keeper league comprised of 12 teams utilizing the standard 5×5 scoring categories to determine the standings and prize money. For offensive players, the five categories are: (1) batting average; (2) homeruns; (3) runs batted in; (4) runs scored; and (5) stolen bases. For pitchers, the five categories are: (1) wins; (2) earned run average; (3) WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched); (4) strikeouts; and (5) saves. Statistics are cumulative throughout the course of the season and there are no head to head games contained within the Roto league.
The SCAFBL operates under a written Constitution which outlines all of the league’s rules and guidelines. Each league member was provided with a copy of the Constitution prior to the league’s draft which took place on March 27, 2011. Included in the rules are provisions regarding the process and method of inputting transactions, including add/drops, placing players on the disabled list, and making trades with other teams. The SCAFBL employs an auction bidding process for free agents where each league member was allotted $100 to use in bidding for available players throughout the season. The following represents a condensed and concise summary of the pertinent Constitutional language that governs the transaction process:
- Each team is given a budget of $100 to use on players available on the waiver wire.
- Teams are restricted to a maximum of five transactions per week.
- All bids on free agents must be made before the conclusion of the final Sunday night game of the week.
- Teams must make their transactions in conformity with the league’s roster and lineup requirements.
- The bidding process will be managed, controlled and administered by the CBS Sports internal commissioner service.
- The bidding process is blind and no team shall have access or knowledge of other teams’ bids.
- The SCAFBL commissioner shall not have access to other teams’ bids.
On Saturday, June 25, 2011, A-Holes & Pujols placed a bid on free agent Dustin Ackley (2B-SEA) for $12 using the CBS Sports free agent auction bidding process. As his corresponding move, A-Holes & Pujols sought to drop Ben Francisco (OF-PHI). A-Holes & Pujols made no other free agent auction bids or any other transactions for the remainder of that week.
As usual, the free agent auction bidding process was run by CBS Sports on Sunday night, June 26, 2011. Once the auction was complete, Mad Cow Disease (also the SCAFBL Commissioner) was awarded Dustin Ackley by winning the auction with a bid of $14. As a result, A-Holes & Pujols’ bid for Ackley was denied and Francisco remained on their roster.
On Monday, June 27, 2011, A-Holes & Pujols sent out an email to the entire league accusing the Commissioner of abusing his power and outbidding him for Ackley. The basis for A-Holes & Pujols’ contention is the allegation that the Commissioner has access to everyone’s bids and can manipulate the system where he can outbid any team for a free agent he so desires.
In response to this email, the Commissioner emphatically denied such accusations and reminded the league of the provisions laid out in the league’s constitution (which are also delineated above in the Factual Background). A majority of league owners responded to the emails as well affirming the Commissioner’s decree and lashing out at A-Holes & Pujols for the undeserved accusations.
A-Holes & Pujols still refused to accept this explanation and requested a league vote to resolve the issue. The Commissioner rejected this request, so A-Holes & Pujols have contacted the Court to rule whether the Commissioner’s acquisition of Dustin Ackley should be upheld due to his alleged capability to see all competing bids.
(1) Should the Commissioner’s acquisition of Dustin Ackley be upheld?
The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment is a strong advocate for having written Constitutions that govern fantasy sports leagues. See John Doe v. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 21, 22 (October 2010). Having a written league constitution or charter helps ensure that “all league members are aware of the rules and guidelines in place, and it shifts the burden onto the league members to read, understand, and adhere to the rules that are delineated.” See Shawn Kemp is My Daddy v. Fantasy Basketball League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 24, 25 (October 2010). Here, the rules explicitly stated what the procedures are for the FAAB process, including the fact that the bidding is blind and not even the Commissioner has access to other teams’ bids. Not only were they delineated by the Commissioner in the league’s Constitution, but they are also the fixed settings set forth by CBS Sports in their League Commissioner package. See Green Eggs & Hamels v. Megan Fox is Hot, 3 F.J. 4, 6 (April 2011).
The Commissioner does subject himself to added scrutiny simply by having such inherent power as making the rules and having access to the league’s internal structure and settings. However, those who choose to participate in a fantasy league run by a Commissioner should presumably have implicit trust and faith in that Commissioner – otherwise it would be foolish to entrust one’s money and time in a fantasy league run by someone that is not trustworthy.
Here, the Commissioner is also a league member, which is often the case. As Commissioner, he must make decisions that are in the best interests of the league. However, he is also entitled to manage his team to the best of his ability and try to win. The Commissioner is subjected to the same rules that apply to everyone else, including the provisions of the free agent auction bidding process. The Commissioner is allotted the same budget as the rest of the league, and he must go through the same bidding process as everyone else. Additionally, there is no way for the Commissioner, or anyone else in the league, to have access to other people’s bids pursuant to the settings that were input. Any bid placed by the Commissioner is as blind as A-Holes & Pujols, and every other member of the SCAFBL.
Further, there is no way for a team to track when another team actually makes their bid. A-Holes & Pujols stated that he placed his bid for Dustin Ackley on Saturday, June 25. It is unknown when Mad Cow Disease placed his bid. Irrespective of that, it simply does not matter when the bids are placed so long as they are placed prior to when the auction runs, which is typically just after 1:00 AM EST. At that point, the only thing system cares about when running the auction is who bid more for a certain player. Based on the blind bids placed on Dustin Ackley, Mad Cow Disease won the auction and successfully acquired the Mariners’ young second baseman.
A-Holes & Pujols went to the rest of the league to appeal this. The Commissioner, despite being involved in the situation, denied A-Holes & Pujols’ request for a league vote on the issue. The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment advocates for league Commissioners to have a certain amount of authority and autonomy to run and administer fantasy sports leagues. See FlemishUSA v. League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 35, 36 (October 2010). In this case, the Commissioner appropriately ruled on the issue by denying the request for a league vote, and instead adhered to the clearly established rules and guidelines that govern the league and the FAAB process.
The league’s FAAB rules clearly demonstrate that Mad Cow Disease (a.k.a. the league Commissioner) properly acquired Ackley. The Court hereby upholds the Commissioner’s decision and rules that the subject transaction should be upheld.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
The general consensus amongst Mets’ fans is that when they trade for or sign a star player, said star player will either get injured or lose his ability to play at a level which justified the aforementioned acquisition. There is a long list of examples dating back many years to justify this feeling – from George Foster, Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray, Vince Coleman, Bret Saberhagen, Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez (sans 2005), Carlos Beltran (sans 2006-2008), Johan Santana (he has pitched well when healthy), etc. True, there have been some that panned out such as Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, and Mike Piazza. But for the most part, big name acquisitions haven’t been the Mets specialty over the years.
Generally speaking, it comes as a surprise when these star players fail to live up to their hype and expectations. I admittedly supported almost every acquisition that was made involving these big names. That brings me to the topic at hand. In the winter of 2009, there were two big name free agent hitters on the market – Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Everyone knew Holliday would be worth more money and wanted to stay in St. Louis, so it came as no surprise when he re-signed with the Cardinals. Bay was available and was the perfect match for the Mets who were in desperate need of a left fielder and powerful bat in the middle of the lineup. Bay had experience playing in a big market environment with the Red Sox the previous year and a half, and he had a great reputation of being a hard-working player and a positive clubhouse guy. The Mets inked Bay to a 4-year, $65 million contract that was generally well-received by fans and the media. He would solifiy left field and provide a presence in the middle of the Mets’ lineup while also taking some pressure off of David Wright.
As it turned out, the only impact Bay really had was in a Sunday Night game against the Yankees where he hit two homeruns off of C.C. Sabathia. Check that, the other impact he had was with the outfield wall which gave him a concussion and ended his season in late July 2010. His final statistics for his first year on the Mets were a .259 batting average, 6 homeruns, and 47 RBI. In his previous six full seasons, he had never hit less than 21 homeruns or driven in less than 81. He clearly hit rock bottom, right?
Coming into 2011, Bay was fully recovered and ready to make up for the lost season that was 2010. However, just before Opening Day, he suffered an oblique injury during batting practice that would land him on the disabled list for most of April. By the time he came back, it was almost 9 months since he had seen a pitch from a big league pitcher in a regular season game. The Mets got off to an awful start, but Bay’s return coincided with a six-game winning streak that brought the Mets back to respectability. However, since the beginning of May, Bay has been non-existent in terms of production with the bat. In 39 games, he is hitting .207 with 2 homeruns and 10 RBI. Yes, 10 RBI. Ruben Tejada has 9 RBI thus far – just for comparison. He only has 4 doubles along with those 2 homeruns giving him a slugging percentage of a whopping .279. And this is supposed to be the Mets’ cleanup hitter?
As bad as those statistics are, it is even worse when you watch him play everyday as I do. He looks completely lost at the plate with no idea how to approach each at bat. He cannot catch up to average fastballs, and he is consistently fooled by off-speed and breaking pitches away. When he does make contact, he either softly grounds out to the left side of the infield or pops up to the outfield. He has become an automatic out and makes Rey Ordonez look like Willie Mays.
Given the Mets’ injuries, they have been relying on Bay more than ever to anchor their lineup that consists of Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and a bunch of minor leaguers. Instead, Bay has been outplayed and outperformed by guys like Jason Pridie, Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, and Ruben Tejada. It reached the point where Bay has become a liability to the Mets because he is contributing nothing from an offensive standpoint. Manager Terry Collins has moved Bay down in the order to try and take some pressure off of him, but that didn’t work. Now, C0llins has benched Bay on several occasions and almost looks like he is creating some sort of platoon in left field.
Granted, if Bay starts hitting then he plays everyday – no questions asked. But I must give Terry Collins credit for proactively dealing with Bay’s lack of production because he was hurting the team by being in there. Collins wants to win, and despite having a banged up roster, he is going to put a lineup together that gives the Mets the best chance to win. Right now, Jason Bay does not give the team the best chance to win. Kudos to Collins for ignoring Bay’s contract and the back of his baseball card. To his credit, Bay seems like a class act and has handled all of this with dignity. He doesn’t have any history of selfish behavior, so there shouldn’t be concern over that. Bay has to straighten himself out, and then he will be right back where he should be. But until then, he cannot continue to hurt the team by being in the middle of that lineup producing absolutely nothing.
What could help Bay resolve his issues? Perhaps a two-week trip down to the minors to work on his mechanics and timing would serve him well. It has worked in the past for pitchers Steve Trachsel and Bobby Jones. But Bay would have to agree to the demotion and buy into the theory that it will help him. He is just going to have to keep working on his swing and his approach, and somehow regain the stroke that netted him a $65 million contract. If he cannot do this, than Mets fans are going to have fonder memories of Mo Vaughn than Jason Bay.
The day has finally arrived where the Mets are without Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez on their roster. After months of speculation, both Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez have been released despite being owed a collective $18,000,000 for the 2011 season. While that is a large chunk of money to just swallow (especially given the Mets’ current financial turmoil due to the Madoff lawsuit), this was something that had to be done in order for the organization to start its rebuilding process. Both Castillo and Perez have become symbolic of the Mets’ recent failures and mediocrity on and off the field. In order to appease the starving fan base, something had to give, and it has now been given.
Castillo was acquired from the Twins in late 2007 to fill a hole at second base vacated by injuries to Jose Valentin. He seemed like a logical fit as a prototypical number two hitter behind Jose Reyes, as well as a solid defender and base stealer. He had been on several winning teams, so there was not much to argue with at the time he was obtained. The issue became when the Mets signed him to a four-year contract worth $24,000,000 after the 2007 season. In defense of Omar Minaya at the time, the move was made to appease Johan Santana and help convince him to sign an extension upon being traded to the Mets in February 2008. Santana apparently liked playing with Castillo in Minnesota, so the Mets helped their cause by locking up the former Gold Glove second baseman. At the time, people knew the contract was not a good one, but it was ancillary to the Santana acquisition.
Over the past few years, Castillo has personified the Mets’ failures with his lackluster defense, atrocious hitting, and nagging injuries. He was a shell of his former self despite only being in his early 30′s. He did not provide the solid defense he was known for. Perhaps the moment he will most be remembered for is his inexplicable drop of a pop-up hit by Alex Rodriguez during a 2009 Subway Series game at Yankee Stadium. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, A-Rod popped a ball up off Francisco Rodriguez which seemingly would end the game and give the Mets a solid win over their cross-town rivals. Amazingly, Castillo’s footwork towards the ball was agonizingly awkward and the ball hit off the middle of his glove letting the tying and winning runs score. That was the end for Castillo in Mets’ fans’ eyes and hearts. He followed this up with piss-poor hitting and a general malaise that gave the appearance of apathy.
Oliver Perez is another story. He was acquired at the trade deadline in 2006 from the Pittsburgh Pirates along with reliever Roberto Hernandez in exchange for outfielder Xavier Nady. The trade was precipitated by Duaner Sanchez’s car accident in Miami that caused him to miss the remainder of the season. Nady, who was playing a solid right field for the Mets and providing productive offense in the middle of the order, was shipped away for pitching help. Perez was essentially a throw-in in the trade. At the time, he was a 25-year old lefty with potentially dominating stuff and a huge upside. Pitching coach Rick Peterson was convinced he could turn Perez into a star. Down the stretch in 2006, it looked like the Mets had completely ripped the Pirates off as Perez won Game 4 of the 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals, and then pitched great in Game 7 deserving a better fate. He was even known as “Big Game Ollie” because of these performances. He followed that up with solid seasons in 2007 and 2008 despite not being as consistent as the Mets would have liked.
Following the 2008 season, Perez entered free agency and was not even offered a contract by another team. The Mets, after seeing pitchers like C.C. Sabathia and Derek Lowe sign elsewhere, decided that Perez was the best option left and offered him a lucrative three-year, $36,000,000 contract. At the time, the deal was not vilified because Perez was still a young, talented left-hander with a big upside. Then, he showed up to the World Baseball Classic followed by spring training in 2009 completely unprepared and out of shape. His velocity barely reached 90 mph and his mechanics were out of sync. This translated into a horrendous 2009 season that culminated with a knee operation. With hopes that he would be healthy and in better shape, the Mets relied on Perez to return to his old self in 2010. However, nothing could have been farther from that. His control was non-existent and his velocity dropped even more. After being demoted to the bullpen, the Mets asked Perez to accept a minor league assignment to work his issues out. Selfishly, Perez exercised his right to decline this and he remained on the big league roster as a complete waste of space. He was placed on the disabled list with questionable lingering knee issues, only to return later in the summer and be sparingly used out of the bullpen in a mop-up role. By this point, the Mets’ fans were irate with Perez for his lack of performance and professionalism. When Omar Minaya was fired and Sandy Alderson was brought in, there were hopes that his first transaction would be releasing Perez. Instead, the Mets gave Perez another opportunity to redeem himself this spring. After competing for a spot in the starting rotation, Perez’s horrific performances moved him into contention for a left specialist role in the bullpen. That didn’t work out either. After surrendering back to back homeruns to two no-name Nationals this past weekend, Perez’s fate was sealed.
These moves represent a cleansing of the bad taste in the mouths of Mets’ fans. Castillo and Perez symbolized the frustration expressed by the fan base and represented a physical target to vent that frustration. Now they are gone. Castillo has already signed a minor league contract with the Phillies, and Perez is sure to catch on somewhere as a low risk, high reward $400,000 investment. Even if they do find success elsewhere, the Mets are better off today without them. There needed to be a change in the culture within the organization, and Sandy Alderson has helped facilitate this change with these two moves. Now, the Mets must learn from their mistakes and be more circumspect about the long-term investments they make.
I recently wrote an article arguing that Cliff Lee is overrated when comparing his overall body of work to the contracts he was being offered in terms of length and cost. I did not include the Philadelphia Phillies in that article because at the time, there was no indication that they were even a consideration for Lee since no reports surfaced of any contract negotiations. Now that the Phillies have come in and swept Lee away from the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, I must swallow some pride and admit a couple things. First off, I still believe that Cliff Lee is overrated and that the Phillies will being grossly overpaying after three years. Second, I must give credit to the Phillies for being aggressive and pursuing Lee to include him in arguably one of the greatest starting pitching rotations of all-time. Lee will be the #2 man behind 2010 Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, and in front of Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. In many respects, when Lee is at the top of his game he is the left-handed version of Halladay. Opponents surely are not looking forward to facing the Phillies. The Phillies, who just saw their best right-handed hitter and starting RF Jayson Werth bolt to Washington, did not stand still. They probably realized that there was not a better option to plug in to right field, so they have essentially changed their overall philosophy. They are not going to bludgeon teams with their offense anymore, which still contains Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Instead, they have gone the other direction to dominate the league with pitching. So I applaud Ruben Amaro and the rest of the Phillies’ organization for being so flexible and creative. And yes, it pains me as a Mets’ fan to say that.
Most importantly, I must give credit to Cliff Lee. In current times, professional athletes seek the most amount of money they possibly can – which they are entitled to do so. Most times, the pursuit of the most money leads players to teams and organizations where there is little chance of succeeding as a team (See Jayson Werth article at http://fantasyjudgment.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/nationals-will-not-get-their-moneys-werth/). Here, Cliff Lee left several million dollars on the table from both the Yankees and Rangers’ contract offers. Granted, he had very good chances of winning had he signed with New York or Texas, but he realized the situation he would be in if he signed with the Phillies and joined their starting rotation. He also clearly enjoyed his time in Philadelphia after being traded there in 2009 and helping lead the Phillies to the World Series. Kudos to Lee for deciding to play on a team that he enjoyed being a part of and that gives him an excellent chance of winning a championship. No one can ever say he went for the money. And maybe he is overpriced and not deserving of more years and dollars than Roy Halladay. But he will certainly be worth more to the Phillies than Jayson Werth was to them or will be to the Nationals.
On August 9, 2010, arbiter Richard Bloch upheld the NHL’s decision to void Ilya Kovalchuk’s $102 million contract with the New Jersey Devils. Earlier this summer, the NHL had rejected the 17-year contract, which represented the longest contract term in NHL history. League officials cited their reasoning as a clear violation of its salary cap. Kovalchuk and the Devils agreed to the deal on July 19, 2010. The next day, the league determined the contract was illegal because years of low salary at the end lowered the cap hit. Kovalchuk was slated to earn only $550,000 in each of the last five seasons of the rejected deal, which would have run through the 2026-27 season.
After the deal was initially rejected, the NHL Players Association filed a grievance against the league. A hearing was held and arbiter Richard Bloch sided with the league when he issued his ruling. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly stated that Bloch’s ruling was “consistent with the league’s view of the manner in which the collective bargaining agreement should deal with contracts that circumvent the salary cap.”
According to NHL spokesman Frank Brown, it is too early to say whether the league would take punitive action against the Devils. New Jersey can be fined or lose draft picks for signing Kovalchuk to a contract that circumvented league rules.
Despite these hurdles, the Devils are still likely to sign Kovalchuk to a contract that better comports to the NHL’s rules and salary cap restrictions. Kovalchuk is hockey’s most sought after free agent during this offseason as he has compiled 338 goals and 304 assists in his career thus far. In the 2009-2010 season, Kovalchuk was traded from the Atlanta Thrashers to the Devils and had 41 goals and 44 assists. Kovalchuk, 27, is the league’s leading goal scorer since 2001.
Regardless of the intent and consent of both parties to the illegal contract, the fact that the agreement was in violation of the NHL’s imposed salary cap restrictions is justification enough to reject the deal. After the work stoppage that cost the NHL an entire season earlier this decade, the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement and all other provisions that stem from it must be consistently adhered to and enforced. While there does not appeat to be any malicious intent by the Devils or Kovalchuk, they cannot receive the benefit of circumventing the applicable rules and standards. The grievance filed by the NHL Players Association will likely not be be sufficient because the league is not restricting Kovalchuk’s ability to sign a contract for a lucrative amount of money. Rather, the league is merely policing itself and enforcing the terms and conditions that were negotiated during the last work stoppage.
At the end of the day, Kovalchuk will still be with the Devils for several years. In other words, the Devil that came from Georgia will soon once again be the Devil With a Red Shirt On. But if the initial deal was approved and allowed, it could start a slippery slope of eventual 20-25 year contracts. In fact, after the fallout of this decision, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman may have only delayed the inevitable scrutiny that other long-term contracts are going to be under. In his ruling, Bloch confirmed that previously registered contracts are now under investigation by listing deals given to Vancouver Canucks’ Roberto Luongo, Boston Bruins‘ Marc Savard, Philadelphia Flyers‘ Chris Pronger and Chicago Blackhawks‘ Marian Hossa as raising similar red flags to Kovalchuk’s rejected contract. “While the contracts have in fact been registered, their structure has not escaped league notice,” the decision reads. “Those players’ contracts are being investigated currently with at least the possibility of a subsequent withdrawal of the registration.”
Good times are ahead for the NHL.
Finally, it is over. After years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds of anticipating where LeBron James would end up once he became a free agent, the wait is now over. LeBron James is now officially a member of the Miami Heat where he will join superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, in the process forming a dominant triumvirate that has catapulted the Heat into the mainstream media. After meeting with the Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Clippers, Heat and incumbent Cavaliers, LeBron chose South Beach as his destination in his quest for a NBA championship.
This entire process and the decision he made have portrayed LeBron in a different light than what the public has been accustomed to since he was drafted as an 18-year old high school kid. LeBron has never had any off-the-court issues, is regarded as a good teammate and a fair competitor, and has always helped his community through charity work and philanthropy. However, the free agency process has changed the public perception of King James, and not for the better. It was obvious that he was going to test the free agent waters, and even the Cleveland Cavaliers knew that. Any successful athlete that has put in the time and had success certainly earns the right to explore free agency and see what his own market value is. But this process became a reality TV show. It became The Bachelor where LeBron was being courted by desperate suitors, all looking to have a ring placed on their finger.
LeBron’s suitors all lined up and gave presentations to him showcasing the benefits of why he should join their franchise. It was borderline pathetic seeing these organizations beg, plead and grovel for King James to bring his court to their court. But then to find out that “The Decision” would be revealed to the public in a televised primetime special on ESPN made the whole thing even more grotesque. Not even Alex Rodriguez was this pretentious when he signed either of his mega free agent contracts. Not even Brett Favre demanded this type of media coverage to make his annual decision of whether or not to retire.
Before we even get to the ESPN “special,” the media coverage and time dedicated to breaking down the decision on sports talk TV and radio was excessive and obnoxious. Personally, I am a closet Knicks’ fan (only closeted since 2000). Of course I wanted LeBron to come to New York and revitalize the Garden. But hearing day after day why he should go here or go there, what happens if this one signs here, blah blah blah. It was just too much. I couldn’t take it anymore. I reached a point where I really didn’t care where he signed, I just wanted it to be official so people would stop speculating and predicting possible scenarios. It baffled my mind that a professional athlete with 7 years of experience and only one appearance in a championship series (and no titles) garnered this much attention. Yes, LeBron is an amazing basketball player and can easily transform a team into a contender (as he did single-handedly in Cleveland). He transcends the sports and brings unlimited exposure and marketability to any team he is on. But what the hell has he done to warrant this type of attention? Did he cure cancer? Did he plug the oil spill in the Gulf? Did he find Nicole Brown Simpson’s real killer? No, he is a talented basketball player.
So the ESPN special comes on and we are treated to the charismatic Jim Gray asking LeBron very poignant questions, such as “Do you still bite your fingernails?” There is no doubt that all teams pursuing LeBron offered psychological counseling and therapy to break LeBron of this habit. This would have led some to believe the Clippers were the favorite to land LeBron..get it…he bites his nails and would play for the Clippers…get it? Ok moving on. So at this point, we are told by LeBron that none of the six potential teams know what his decision is (despite various sources claiming it was Miami earlier in the day). These teams all traded players away and made various personnel decisions to clear significant salary cap space in an attempt to sign James to a max contract. They were all allegedly in the dark when James, finally 27 minutes into the hour-long special, stated that he was taking his talent down to South Beach. After 7 years, King James was deserting his hometown fans to join his buddies down in Miami in the hopes of winning a championship.
Now, let me say something first. I am the first to criticize an athlete when they sign a contract for the most amount of money with a team that has no chance of winning. When it is so plainly obvious that an athlete doesn’t care about winning and only his bank account, I have a little problem with that. So LeBron’s rationale to leave Cleveland (and an additional $30,000,000) and go to Miami because he has the best chance of winning a title has some nobility. I always appreciate an athlete that puts winning ahead of money. However, in LeBron’s case, money cannot really be considered a factor here. He was going to get maximum money no matter where he signed, but his financial status is truly cemented and augmented by his branding, advertising and marketing. So in the end he wants to win titles. He probably wants to be considered at the same level as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. But there is one very large distinction between Michael/Kobe and King James – Michael and Kobe won with THEIR OWN teams. The Bulls were Michael Jordan’s team that he helped nurture and grow into contenders and subsequently winners. The Lakers were Kobe’s team that won with Shaq and without Shaq. Neither of these players deserted their teams when they weren’t winning. They helped build the foundation for their respective successes and won where they started.
LeBron clearly changed the Cavaliers’ fortunes when he joined the team. The Cavs were one of the worst teams in the NBA for quite some time when he came along. Instantly, the Cavs were a playoff contending team every year, and even the Eastern Conference champions once. But no matter who was on LeBron’s supporting cast, including Shaq, they couldn’t get over the hump. So instead of continuing to build the team and take that next step, he bolts as soon as an opportunity arises to play with two other superstars under a team run by Pat Riley. Now LeBron is a player on someone else’s team. Make no mistake about it, the Miami Heat are Dwyane Wade’s team. He is the heart and soul of the Heat, and he has won a championship with this team. Now Chris Bosh and LeBron James have come to join Wade’s team. So no matter how many titles LeBron wins on the Heat, or anywhere else for that matter, he will never be regarded in the same light as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.
The letter issued by Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert was shocking. While I can appreciate Gilbert’s attempt to appease the Cleveland fan base and instill some sense of confidence in the organization, his words and message about LeBron were vindictive and unprofessional. To expect an athlete in today’s environment to maintain loyalty and selflessness are unrealistic. LeBron earned the right to become a free agent and pursue whatever opportunity he felt was best for him. is that selfish? Maybe, but maybe not. As the owner of the team, Gilbert’s verbal attack on LeBron’s reputation and personality makes him seem like a scorned lover whose significant other left him for another man. LeBron fulfilled his contractual obligations to the Cleveland organization and brought them out of the depths of irrelevance and mediocrity. LeBron single-handedly made people care about the Cavaliers. Despite how painful it must be for the Cavaliers to lose him, LeBron had every right to make this decision and choose his own destiny. Dan Gilbert made the whole thing too personal, and this sends the wrong message to his other players and every other professional athlete that makes an unpopular decision.
At the end of the day, this is just another marquee sports figure who has decided to pursue other opportunities by changing teams. It has happened plenty of times before and will happen many more times in the future. But the whole process of how this was handled and reported leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Not because I feel bad for Cleveland, not because I am upset LeBron didn’t join the Knicks, and not because LeBron doesn’t feel he can lead a team on his own to a title. I have a sour taste about it because this process made LeBron seem more important than a team and the entire NBA. This whole process was milked for more than it was worth, and it unfortunately ruined a relatively pristine public perception of one of the game’s most talented players. It also proved why the NBA is perceived so negatively by the public as compared to the other major sports.
I look forward to ESPN’s coverage of where Eddy Curry will sign as a free agent next summer. There will probably be a televised special on ESPN 2 hosted by an intern.