Wednesday, June 6, 2012

5 comments Rick Reilly Very Poorly Defends LeBron James

I've defended LeBron James before on this site and I generally don't have a huge problem with him. I'm not a fan of him or the Heat, but mostly because LeBron's team has competed with my favorite team to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference over the past few years. I'm pretty much over his move to South Beach and think people give him too much shit at times for his faults. Of course LeBron hasn't exactly gone out of his way to prove his detractors wrong and there is a certain unexplainable (no matter how much Bill Simmons will try to explain it, this element is not easily explained) element he is missing from his game. I think a lot of the element seemingly missing from James' game right now can be seen in his quote after Game 5 last night:

"We played good enough to give ourselves a chance to win," James said. "That's all you can ask for."

I'm not going to pile on James too much in knee-jerk fashion and I was going to post this article even before the Game 5 loss. Superstars are not expected to resign themselves to fate about a loss. It's not supposed to be how they work. Perhaps we ask too much from our superstars like James, but more is expected in the playoffs than simply giving yourself a chance to win. If James comes out in Game 6 and 7 and the Heat win the series everyone will forget about any of these issues the Heat supposedly had. That quote is troublesome to me though. It signifies to me a sort of resignation to the fates by James. You hear quotes like this after a game where one team was absolutely on fire and could not be stopped. That wasn't the case for the Celtics last night. They didn't play particularly well. This doesn't speak to me about a lack of competitiveness on the part of James, I don't think that's the issue, it speaks to me as James not fundamentally understanding the expectations he has set for himself and others have set for him.

Rick Reilly apparently feels like he watched enough NBA games this year to write about LeBron James and in typical Rick Reilly fashion quite simply does a terrible job of defending him. It's clear Reilly simply isn't enough of a sports fan to write a well put-together defense of LeBron. His defense of LeBron consists of asking a bunch of questions that have nothing to do with his performance on the court and actually ends up backing up some of the criticism of LeBron.

Before we get to the article, let's all overreact to the Heat loss last night to the Celtics. They will never win a title with LeBron/Wade/Bosh on the team, Spoelstra should be fired, Chalmers should be executed, and either LeBron or Wade should be traded immediately. Glad I got that out of my system.

(What was interesting to me when searching the BotB archive is there are 28 articles about LeBron on this site and I have only written 13 of them. I found this interesting.)

This whole We Hate LeBron thing reminds me of a story.

One time there was a sportswriter who wrote for Sports Illustrated and then he got paid too much money to go write for Eventually realized even though they waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on useless "journalists" like Gregg Easterbrook and pay Skip Bayless to troll their audience, they don't really care for this sportswriter anymore and won't re-sign him after his excessively large contract runs out? This writer has become expendable to this huge sports entertainment organization. That's a story I enjoy.

Anything short of an NBA title makes James a useless wad of pre-chewed pork gristle in your eyes. Whatever he does -- three MVPs in nine seasons -- it's never enough.

Here is the ironic part. Rick Reilly is doing the whole "All you people hate LeBron James so much and I don't understand why you hate him as much as you" act. Rick Reilly is employed by, who employs the biggest troll and LeBron-hater on Earth in the putrid human form of Skip Bayless. Do you know who hates on LeBron more so than any other group? The media and guys like Skip Bayless. In fact, Israel Gutierrez has an article up on that says among other things,

Instead, what you saw was James shying away from the bigger moments in another high-stress game.

Wasn't this why James escaped Cleveland, to not be required to do all the heavy lifting against a still-intimidating Celtics defense?

Then again, James returned the favor in the final eight minutes of the game.

But as the game progressed, James played his far too familiar game of keep-away -- as in, "keep me away from the ball" -- to the point that he managed just four shots for the final 8:10 of the game.

Which is worse, LeBron's teammates essentially letting him down for the first three quarters of the game, or LeBron letting his teammates down in the game's most critical minutes?

So who exactly are the people most responsible for criticizing LeBron James again? Reilly's media counterparts and fellow ESPN employees.

The media are the ones who write articles about nearly every single one of Rick's complaints in this article. Naturally, because he's a hack, Rick Reilly in no way acknowledges this and places all of the blame on the fans. Sure, this overreaction to LeBron's wins and losses are all the fans fault. We are the ones spouting knee-jerk reaction nonsense to any Heat loss on television and in print. Many fans are simply repeating and parroting the same arguments they hear the media make for why LeBron isn't clutch, shies away from taking the last shot and isn't a winner who inspires his teammates to be better.

You hate him -- still! --

No, your colleagues hate him--still!--for botching the free agent move to Miami. The media loves to thrash LeBron.

Forget that hundreds of people move from Cleveland to Miami every year.

This is so completely not even close to being the same thing. Hundreds of people move from Cleveland to Miami every year, but hundreds of people do not carry the hopes and dreams of the citizens of each city along with them when making this move. Nobody outside of his friends and family cares if Bob Smith leaves Company X in Cleveland to join Company Y in Miami. Cleveland Cavaliers fans do care when a beloved player leaves to join Miami because that means their favorite NBA team has taken a huge step back in their ability to compete for an NBA title. There is a huge difference in a regular person moving from Cleveland to Miami and LeBron James moving from Cleveland to Miami.

Forget that dozens of NBA players change teams every year.

LeBron James isn't just any NBA player. As Rick Reilly himself pointed out, LeBron James is probably the best player in the NBA right now. When he changes teams it is a much bigger deal and this move will result in a much stronger reaction among fans. If Rick Reilly isn't able to comprehend the difference in J.R. Smith changing teams and LeBron James changing teams then he should not be writing about sports at any point in the past, present or future.

It was only one mistake. Has he showed up in any police reports since? Has he cheated on his fiancée ?

Yes, most likely he has cheated on his fiancee. A large percentage of NBA players have women they see on the road that aren't their significant others and very, very few of these affairs become public knowledge I would say it is a fair bet LeBron James has cheated on his fiancee and we would never hear a single word about this...nor would I care to hear about this.

Has he left his children stranded in the pick-up circle at school?

No, because he most likely has people who do this for him. Being a famous athlete is much like being a celebrity. All this menial, day-to-day shit like picking up your kids from school, going grocery shopping, and having to wipe your own ass after you go to the bathroom is done by other people. LeBron focuses on one thing during the day, being good at basketball. So I would imagine the person he pays to pick up his kids from school is very prompt and never strands the children at school.

Has he refused to speak to reporters after a single game this season? Has he called out his teammates for their poor play, as Kobe Bryant did twice this postseason?

Not publicly James hasn't called out his teammates. Bryant and James are two different people who go about communicating with their teammates in two different ways. Kobe is from the Michael Jordan School of Belittlement and Public Embarrassment, while LeBron is not. Of course it doesn't hurt that James is surrounded by Wade and Bosh as his teammates with Battier, Chalmers, Haslem and a bunch of other guys who know their roles on the team. This year Bryant was surrounded by Gasol, Bynum (who sometimes gave a shit and other times didn't), Ron Artest, and a bunch of other guys who Kobe probably would rather not have played with. I'm not saying Kobe should call out his teammates publicly. I'm just not sure any players out of the Lakers starters would crack the Heat's rotation. Maybe that's exaggerating a bit, but James intentionally placed himself on a team with other stars, while Kobe seems to want other stars on his team but still wants to play the role of alpha dog.

Has he gotten his coach fired?

He hasn't gotten his coach fired in Miami...yet. It is still early though in LeBron's Heat tenure and if LeBron undermines Spoelstra the way he reportedly undermined Mike Brown then Spoelstra's exit and scapegoating for a failed attempt at an NBA Title is just around the corner.

Asked to be traded, released or named general manager?

Why would LeBron want to be traded or released? He is on a team that made the NBA Finals last year and the Eastern Conference Finals the past two years. The entire Heat team is being built around Wade/Bosh/LeBron, so he really doesn't need to be the General Manager as long as they make moves LeBron likes.

Has he punched anybody? Choked anybody?

At this point, Rick Reilly is just asking the same question and changing the variation of the question for two reasons. First, Rick Reilly is lazy and can't manage to write 1000 words without killing space. Second, Rick Reilly is just collecting a paycheck and refuses to put 100% effort into all of his columns. He's like Andrew Bynum, if Andrew Bynum was old and had not been a competent basketball player for nearly a decade.

OK, he's not perfect. Threw a Gatorade cup. Punched a walking stick. Carries that stupid little man purse.

I know. I prefer Ed Hardy shirts too.

But if you were to fill a plane with the most spoiled superstars in the country, he'd be boarding in the D group.

Really? I would guess LeBron James is probably like most other superstars in sports and is incredibly spoiled. I'm also guessing Rick Reilly hasn't done much research on LeBron's feelings about free birthday cakes, tipping servers, or read Brian Windhorst's article on everything Miami did to recruit LeBron to Miami. There are many references to him always having his group of friends around him and the word "no" to LeBron is probably only spoken by LeBron James and never directed towards LeBron. This doesn't make him a bad person of course. It does mean Rick Reilly seems to be off-base in what he says about LeBron not being spoiled.

You despise him because he passes too much. Imagine that. You hate a modern NBA player for not being selfish.

OK, I'd like to see him use his bag of hoop tricks to drive more at the end of games, too.

(Throws hands up out of frustration)

So basically Rick Reilly is saying these people who think LeBron passes too much are correct in saying this?

You people seem to want him to take it every single time, even with Dwyane Wade as a teammate.

Reilly doesn't get it. It isn't about LeBron taking the last shot, it is about what he did in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. When matched up with a guy (Rondo) half a foot shorter than him, LeBron settled for a long fadeaway jump shot instead of taking Rondo to the basket and using his advantage in height and strength to either get to the foul line or make a shot. It is about LeBron James dominating the Heat scoring in the first half of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but not continuing this effort through the entire game or taking over the game in the fourth quarter. It is about a perception. The perception is LeBron James doesn't absolutely take over a game like he could or he should. The perception is LeBron James hit a three point shot to put the Heat up one point, but doesn't hit a three point shot that puts the Heat up for good in the game. I'm not saying it is right or it is wrong. There is a certain instinct or sense of timing that LeBron is missing. Throwing up his hands and saying, "We did all we could," that's just not seen as acceptable coming from a superstar.

It's about LeBron having six shot attempts in the fourth quarter. LeBron has all the right statistics and is the best player in the NBA. The perception is that when he's in a tough playoff game he doesn't say, "To hell with this. We are not losing this game," and then carry his team to victory. I agree Wade should take last second shots as well, but as the best player in the NBA LeBron James will take some criticism for not shooting the "right" shot at the end of a game or throwing the Heat on his back. It goes with the territory.

Besides, he passes so exquisitely. His passes are clairvoyant, leading teammates to places they didn't even know they were supposed to go. They're as soft and buttery as croissants.

I swear, an 8th grader could write exactly like Rick Reilly does. He's horrendous.

Why wouldn't you want him passing?

As long as he is passing to Wade or Bosh at the end of a game or setting up a teammate for a wide open look, there is no problem with passing. Again, the issue comes when LeBron doesn't touch the ball down the stretch of a game or chooses to take a fallaway jump shot rather than being aggressive at the end of a game. There comes a certain point where a superstar doesn't need to pass anymore and can't play a team game anymore. It is up to him to hit a big shot. People remember how a player finishes the game.

And why is the hoops world so hyper-critical of this one thing when he's so brilliant at every other part of the game? Defense? He's guarded every position on the Celtics -- the 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. "He's guarded everybody but me," says Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

I completely agree, LeBron plays great defense. He's played center some in the Eastern Conference Finals. His defense isn't the issue at hand. As a (supposedly) professional writer you can't reason that people should get off James' back about scoring at the end of a game because he plays good defense.

This would be like me saying people should not criticize Albert Pujols for not fielding his position well because he's a good hitter. I mean, what else do you want from the guy? Pau Gasol gets a ton of rebounds and you expect him to score also? A player can be excellent at one facet of his game, but this doesn't mean other facets of his game escape criticism.

Wade missed an open jumper to lose Game 4 in overtime -- how come he's not "scared?"

A part of this issue is perception. It is perceived that LeBron James backs away from the spotlight. I don't know who be partially responsible for this perception. Maybe Rick Reilly should have done this column as an ESPN internal memo.

Last year, you hated him for being a shrinker. Now you hate him for not being a closer.

I don't know who this "you" person is, but the media is as responsible as anyone for portraying LeBron as a shrinker and criticizing him for not closing. Accusing LeBron of shrinking from the spotlight and criticizing him for not being a closer are really the same thing. Either way, the perception is he isn't at his best when the game gets close in the fourth quarter.

And by the way, most of the time James doesn't need to close because he's been so drop-your-popcorn good the entire game.

I don't know why, but this sentence really irritates me. Maybe it is the italics around "need" or the use of the phrase "drop-your-popcorn good." It's probably a little of both.

Aren't we still playing the game of basketball? What happened to attacking the defense where it's softest?

Agreed. In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, was the soft spot of the Boston defense 19 feet away from the basket while being guarded by a player 6 inches smaller than him? Last night LeBron took 12 of his 25 shots outside of the paint. I bring this up, not as the only bit of evidence, but as a microcosm of some people's frustration with LeBron James. Then in overtime in Game 2, Wade and Haslem are the ones who got the Heat a lead. James played well, including hitting a few free throws (as well as missing two free throws), having some assists and rebounding well. It's just when people think of the best player in the NBA they don't necessarily think of that guy who got a key offensive rebound or assisted in a key basket. I don't blame James for all of this, but this is where the perception he shies away in crunch time comes from. It's fine to be a team player, but we expect superstars to be the one who makes the important basket not got a key offensive rebound.

People -- enough. This whole "Crown or Drown" thinking on James has to stop.

LeBron James himself predicted 6-7 NBA Titles for the Heat. He brought this expectations upon himself. Don't even try to point the blame for these expectations anywhere else.

James has been with these guys only two seasons. It took Michelangelo four years to paint the Sistine Chapel.

Again, this is a terrible, terrible analogy. Comparing the time it takes to paint the Sistine Chapel to the time it takes the Heat to win an NBA Title results is a comparison that really serves no purpose. Of course, Rick Reilly quit giving a shit three years ago about whether what he writes makes sense or not.

But I think the reason you hate LeBron James the most is that he just doesn't seem to suffer his failures as much as you'd like him to. You want him to brood like Kobe at losses, glare like Jordan when things don't go his way, scream at teammates like Tom Brady when they're behind.

Well, Rick Reilly does know "you" better than you know yourself. I'm not a fan of James because he plays for the Heat, which is a team I don't traditionally really like too much for a variety of reasons. I do think one of the reasons James takes so much criticism is he doesn't have a feel for when it is time to take over the game. He always comes out of a game with great statistics, but in a playoff game a superstar sometimes has to put his foot down and prevent his team from losing. The perception is that LeBron James hasn't always been capable of that.

He's a 6-foot-8 pixie, a 27-year-old kid who's addicted to kidding. He's a genuinely sweet person.

Right, but he also predicted 6-7 NBA titles, gets paid like a superstar and carries himself like the best player in the NBA. Regardless of whether he is a pixie or just likes to joke around, there are a set of expectations set for and by him that he has to live up to.

That's probably going to work against him in the long run. It will keep him from being Jordan or Kobe or Kareem.

Quit comparing him to other players. That's the point. There hasn't been another NBA player, outside of Magic Johnson, who could do the things that LeBron James does. So defending him by saying he isn't going to be one of the best players of all-time, even though he has the ability to be the best player of all-time is a weak defense. It feeds into the hands of those who criticize LeBron.

But isn't that somebody you want your kids to have as their hero?

Maybe, but is that the point? Is the point of being an NBA player to be a hero to children? Charles Barkley would argue it is not. Rick Reilly is missing the entire point. Those who criticize James aren't doing so because they don't see him as a good role model. They criticize him for what they perceive to be his failings on the court. Pointing out what a great person he is in an attempt to defend LeBron isn't defending LeBron. It is missing the point of the criticism. James sets these expectations for himself and the media criticizes him when he falls short. Fans respond to the media criticism, yet Rick Reilly thinks we as fans are too hard on LeBron.


Murray said...

Ben the walking stick was a satire column. RR beilieved it true

Bengoodfella said...

Murray, I read that on Deadspin after I posted this. I am apparently really out of the loop on this story. I never heard the original walking stick story, so I didn't even get the reference in this story.

rich said...

Anything short of an NBA title makes James a useless wad of pre-chewed pork gristle in your eyes. Whatever he does -- three MVPs in nine seasons -- it's never enough.

This is what's so intriguing to me about the media. They either don't get it or they're blatantly playing both sides.

LeBron left Cleveland because he said he wanted to win championships playing with his douchebuddy Wade. The fact that they may end up 0 for 2 is fucking hysterical to everyone not a Heat or LeBron fan.

The guy pulled the ultimate asshole move, then claimed not 1, not 2, not 3, not four... only to end up with absolutely nothing? Holy shit that's awesome.

And it's the fact that LeBron made it about championships that we can easily judge him by that metric.

Forget that dozens of NBA players change teams every year.

I'm going to argue this from a different perspective Ben: it's not that LeBron left Cleveland, it's how he left.

Had LeBron made a decision to go to Miami and told the Cavs that he was leaving and then held a press conference - people would be upset, but hey, good luck to you buddy.

He didn't though. He held an hour long special where no one (not even the teams courting him) knew what his answer was.

Then he, like a fucking idiot, comes out and says he had made up his mind that morning (or something)... it was a douchebag move.

It's like having a gf dump you. It hurts, but if she comes up and says "ya, this isn't working and this hot guy wants me" you'd feel terrible, but you'd understand. Now if your gf goes with you to the movies, stands in front of everyone before the previews and says "I'm dumping [Name] and I'm going to start banging this new guy!"

It's not that LeBron left Cleveland that bothers most people, it's the fact he's a douchebag of the highest order that makes people hate him.

Asked to be traded, released or named general manager?

Guess Rick missed when LeBron talked about possibly going back to Cleveland after his Miami contract is up.

he'd be boarding in the D group.

If the D stands for Douchebag, then yes, this is appropriate.

Why wouldn't you want him passing?

Because he's the best scorer on the team. Lets see here, do I want the guy who can get me the two points almost automatically or do I want him making a really nice pass so Super Nintendo Chalmers can throw up a brick?

He's a 6-foot-8 pixie, a 27-year-old kid who's addicted to kidding. He's a genuinely sweet person.

I'm sorry, but if you are 27 years old, engaged and have children... no one should be referring to you as a kid.

The fact of the matter is that regardless of how "genuinely sweet" he is (seriously Rick?), he keeps doing things that aren't appropriate.

It's not appropriate to do "The Decision," it's not appropriate to be a year into your contract and talk about how you'd be willing to play somewhere else, it's not appropriate to give up at the end of games, it's inappropriate to whine after every play.

And above all, he fucking flops.

But isn't that somebody you want your kids to have as their hero?

No. I want my kids to have a hero that doesn't quit on their team, hold them hostage and dump on an entire franchise to feed their ego.

I'd rather my kids look up to a god damn adult than someone you just referred to as a "kid."

rich said...

Oh and how the hell did I forget that LeBron complained constantly about the roster in Cleveland?

LeBron constantly talked about who he did and didn't want on the team, it's part of the reason why their roster was so shitty - they kept bringing in guys who LeBron wanted, but didn't fit the style of play.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, LeBron will get a championship. I don't know when exactly, but I fully believe he will get his. He set the standard upon which we judge him. He calls himself King James.

That is probably true as well a/b how LeBron left Cleveland. I am over it, but I can how people are not. There's nothing like being rejected in a very public fashion with your face essentially being pushed in the mud. The Cavs were publicly notified that James was going to another team and it probably made them feel like assholes.

And the reason you don't want LeBron passing is b/c he's the best player in the NBA. He needs to be scoring at the end of games. It seems like he doesn't have the feel for when it is time for him to take over. He's missing that part of his game right watch him take over tonight. But you get my point. He shouldn't be passing b/c he is the best player on the court and should be able to get to the rim when he wants.

I don't know LeBron and he seems like a nice guy, but he has a public persona as being nice for marketing reasons. You don't have to look hard to hear stories of how others basically run his basketball life, how he wasn't mature enough in Cleveland to lead that team at times and he gave up in Game 5 of the 2010 ECF. He did. He gave up.

You will never convince me LeBron isn't playing GM in Miami. Isn't that the whole reason Wade/Bosh/LBJ got together? B/c all three wanted to be on a team together? I find it hard to believe he doesn't play GM or undermine his coach.