As we got ready for last night's broadcast of "Sports Extra," Duke Castiglione, Ryan Asselta, producer Lou Albanese, new intern Abby Tufts and I were watching the NBA Finals. And as Dallas pulled away, en route to a championship, Duke echoed what seems to be the topic du jour:
"Is LeBron the new A-Rod?"
It sure seems that way, doesn't it? LeBron is getting dogged all over the yakosphere (trademark Neil Best). My favorite joke involves the one in which someone asks LeBron for change of a dollar and he gives back 75 cents, explainining, "I don't have a fourth quarter."
I don't follow the NBA closely enough to know how much LeBron is to "blame" for the Heat's loss. And I certainly understand that basketball is different than baseball. A basketball player can "take over" a game in a way that a baseball player simply can't, unless a baseball player can reformulate his molecules to look like his teammates, a la T-1000 in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," and then take their at-bats
But I do know, from monitoring A-Rod quite closely back when he held the moniker of "Best athlete without a title," that it is a fundamentally unfair and overly simplistic characterization.
Yeah, maybe LeBron choked in these finals. But didn't he play a pretty important role in getting Miami to the finals? And the same when Cleveland reached the finals in 2007?
Just like neither A-Rod's Mariners (in 1997 and 2000) nor A-Rod's Yankees (2004 through 2007) would have been in trouble in the regular season had they not benefited from what he gave them during the marathon from April through September.
Yup, A-Rod brought a lot on himself by saying a lot of silly things over the years, and LeBron certainly contributed to the hating with "The Decision." Even last night, he made some regrettable comments, lashing out at those who cheered against them.
But maybe we can learn something from the A-Rod years? Can't we salute a great player while calmly noting that sure, a title would really enhance his legacy all the more? Can't we allow that we're dealing with pro athletes who are paid to perform on their selected field/court, and that they might not be perfect public speakers?
Why does it have to be so black and white? What's wrong with gray? Is it really worth any of our energy to crush LeBron James because he has helped two teams reach the finals, but hasn't done enough to get a ring?
According to Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds, which are of course anything but gospel but an interesting data point. the Yankees have a 61 percent chance of winning the AL wild-card. After that comes Boston, at 21.8 percent (and in correlation with that, the Yankees are 22.9 percent likely to win the AL East). And third most likely? Tampa Bay, at 10.7 percent.
--Sorry for the tardiness. I'll check in later from the Stadium.