Is The Media Treating LeBron James Unfairly?

July 27, 2010

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When LeBron James left the Cavaliers for the Heat as a free agent, I was disappointed, along with much of the country.  I would have loved to see him win a title with his hometown Cavs.

However, I have been surprised at the amount of backlash against not only LeBron, but the NBA’s new Holy Trinity as a whole.  If you listen to some radio shows, it sounds like LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosch coming together is a great sin against humanity.  We simply can’t have all of the NBA’s stars gravitating to a handful of teams, can we?

This strikes me as very odd.  The ultimate goal in team sport is to win a title.  These three players put themselves in prime position to win a title.  If there are no other teams that can challenge them (at least in the East), is this their fault?

In an era where players (and agents) seem to enjoy squeezing every last dollar out of their teams, it’s worth noting that the three players did not sign the “max contracts” they could have signed under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.  They sign for a bit less (albeit still for stunning amounts) to allow the Heat a bit of flexibility to sign a few more players and still stay under the NBA’s salary cap.  It’s not as if the Heat could throw unlimited money at the three players – they still had to creatively work them under the cap.  Among the deals they made was jettisoning 2008 #2 overall pick Michael Beasley for a relative pittance to free up cap space.

Remember a generation ago when Michael Jordan was playing for signficantly below his market value so that the Bulls could sign and retain players who could help them win a title – such as the ever-colorful Dennis Rodman?  Of course, the much-loved Jordan was glorified in the press for doing this – another sacrifice by the ultimate team player.  If baseball’s Albert Pujols signs an extension with the St. Louis Cardinals for less than his stratospheric market value, he too will be portrayed as a team player who is doing his part to help the Cardinals get back to the World Series.  Even in the NBA, we see aging stars sign cheap deals toward the end of their careers in an attempt to chase a ring.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that LeBron handled his departure gracefully.  The ESPN special was a bit much, even if it did raise money for charity.  Can you imagine Albert Pujols or Peyton Manning doing this?  Of course not.

Cavaliers owner  Dan Gilbert could have chosen to take the high road, but decided to get his hands dirty with an open letter than was extremely critical of James, including allegations that he gave up during the playoffs.  Other observers were equally appalled that Gilbert dared to use the Comic San Serif font for his letter (yes, I’m serious).  In any case, Gilbert’s letter served to further stoke the fires.  Gilbert may not have liked LeBron’s exit, but the fact of the matter is that LeBron was within his rights to leave – that’s the essence of the concept of free agency.

You can choose to dislike James for his decision – but don’t dislike him for working with his friends to form a super team.  They are simply trying to achieve the ultimate team goal.  It’s not impossible for another team to challenge the Heat with a similar super trio – they simply need to find a few stars hungry enough for a title that they can sacrifice a few bucks along the way.

Is Consistency Overrated in Sports?

July 13, 2010

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You often hear people hold the virtue of “consistency” aloft as the gold standard in sports.  It’s great to know that Joe Star is going to go out and put up the same stellar numbers in every game, right?

Not necessarily.  At some point, we get into diminishing marginal returns of sucky performances.  Let’s say Joe Bad goes out and throws four interceptions and loses two fumbles in a game.  Joe Worse throws seven interceptions and loses four fumbles.  Joe Worse hurt his team a lot more, right?  No, not really.  Joe Bad’s team was almost certain to lose the game with him turning the ball over seven times.  Throwing a couple more interceptions and fumbling two more times might look worse in the stat sheet, but it only affects the chance of winning a small bit.

The same principle comes into play in my favorite sport.  If you haven’t noticed, that sport happens to be baseball.  It makes little difference if a pitcher gives up seven runs or 27.  Unless the game is in Coors Field, it’s an almost certain loss for his team.  The 27 run outing is going to absolutely kill the guy’s ERA, but his team still lost just one game that day. 

Sometimes, you will hear announcers talk about pitchers with similar numbers, but point out (negatively) that one pitcher has a tendency to get his brain bashed every once in a while.  In actuality, this guy is probably the more valuable pitcher.  He might be getting absolutely rocked in 10-20% of his outings, but he’s outperforming the other guy in the other 80-90% of the games in order to have similar season numbers.  It’s important not to miss the forest for the trees.  The single game in which the pitcher took a beating accounts for just 1/162 of the season.  It should not overshadow the rest of his performances.

The takeaway on this?  Don’t dwell on the outliers; look at the entire body of work.



Giants (and ESPN) announcer Jon Miller made a fool of himself by accusing the Colorado Rockies of cheating via ball swapping trickery.  The Rockies have an MLB-approved humidor to keep baseballs at a constant humidity level.  Without the humidor, the balls quickly dry out at the high altitude, resulting in lighter balls that travel further.  The humidor is an attempt to keep a bit of a lid on offense.  (Why don’t all parks have humidors?  I don’t know.  I personally think they should.)  Anyway, Miller suggested that the recent hot streak by the Rockies might be a result of them sneaking non-humidored balls in to the umpire when they needed some offensive help late in games.

There are a few reasons why this isn’t particularly feasible.  First, the umpire rubs down all the balls with mud before the game (to reduce glare from the white surface).  How would the “cheater” balls get re-separated after the rubbing?  Second, what happens if the ball boy gives the ump several “cheater” balls and then the inning ends on the next pitch – the opposition would have the advantage of hitting the “cheater” balls.

But the most damning factor is that many pitchers have said that there is a discernible difference in the way the humidor balls feels as opposed to how a dry ball feels.  Not only is there a difference in the way it feels, but also the weight of the ball.  It might not be enough of a difference for the casual fan to notice, but pitchers are going to notice.


LeBron James decided to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosch on the Miami Heat.  I wasn’t shocked by the move, but was saddened a bit.  For the last few years, the only reason I have followed the NBA was to see if LeBron could bring a title to his hometown.  I’m not a fan of the style of play, and have been a marginal follower for the past decade. 

The NCAA basketball tournament is going to expand to 68 teams.  Instead of having four play-in games where the winner will play the #1 seed, the last eight at large teams (likely 11 or 12 seeds) will face off against each other for the right to stay alive in the tournament.  I hate this idea, because I think that 64 is the perfect number.  This change is likely to mess up a lot of bracket pools around the country.  Do you start counting games on Tuesday or on Thursday?

18 year old Mike Trout, an Angels farmhand, had a nice weekend.  In the Futures Game over the weekend, he had a single and double and reached twice on errors caused by the defense trying to hurry to beat his speed.  Later, he was promoted from low-A Cedar Rapids to high-A Rancho Cucamonga.  Trout has blazing speed and could have good power by the time he fully develops.  If he can stay in centerfield, he could be an extremely valuable player for years to come.

And speaking of reaching on an error … a batter is credited with an out when he reached on an error.  That’s why Trout was listed as 2 for 4 in the game.  In the same way, a fielder is credited with an assist even if the player he throws the ball to makes an error.  This is a bit weird, as players are being penalized (or rewarded) for things that should have happened.  In the case of the fielder, I don’t have a big problem with it.  But for the batter, I don’t like it, especially when the player forced an error with his speed.  Shouldn’t the batter get some credit, or at worst, simply not get charged with an at bat (as is the case with sacrifices)?

George Steinbrenner passed away at the age of 80 following a heart attack.  The much maligned owner had been in poor health for the past few years.

Where Should LeBron James Sign?

May 25, 2010

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or just don’t care about sports – you know that LeBron James is about to become a free agent.

The 25 year old James is arguably the best player in the NBA. The financial piece of the equation is very easy. Under NBA rules, his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, can offer him more money than any other team. If he simply wants the cash, he stays with the Cavs.  The financial negotiations would not be complex.  The Cavaliers would simply write down the maximum salary allowed by NBA rules and wait for LeBron to sign the contract.

Over the course of the past few years, there has been widespread speculation that the New York Knicks would try to snap up James and some other top free agents. In an effort to gain “cap space”, the Knicks have rid themselves of expensive players. In addition to reducing payroll, this has also reduced wins.  The Knicks finished this season with a record of 29-53.

If LeBron picks the Knicks, he’ll be playing in the media capital of the world, and can become an even bigger star than he is now. There’s also the possibility that the Knicks can throw enough money around to build a championship caliber team.

If I were James, though, I’d be very cautious. Throwing money at players doesn’t guarantee that the team will meld into a championship contender. It’s just as likely that the Knicks will end up with a huge payroll and a crappy team.  The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have already proven that they are able to build a contender around him.  Yesterday, they fired Mike Brown – whose .663 winning percentage is tops in Cavaliers history – apparently to make way for LeBron’s choice of coach.  LeBron has a huge amount of influence over the future of the Cavs organization.

In terms of media exposure, I’m really not sure how much more exposure James can get. He’s already the most popular player in the NBA and a cultural icon. What does he really want – his own late night talk show?  At some point, don’t you get to a level of “global icon” that makes your geographic location irrelevant?

Although James may gain a bunch of fans by moving to another city, he might lose a lot of his existing fans.  Certainly Cavalier fans would leave in droves, but so would many other fans around the country.  LeBron is an Ohio kid (from Akron).  Watching him attempt to lead his hometown team to an NBA title is a great story line for me.  If LeBron is trying to lead the Knicks to a title, I’m not nearly as interested.  If he’s playing for Phil Jackson in Chicago (the Bulls are rumored to be courting Jackson) then I would be actively rooting against him.

As you can guess, my advice to LeBron is to stay in Cleveland.  He may make a few less bucks in endorsements, but he’ll be treated like royalty in Cleveland.  He’ll also continue to be just a short car ride away from family and old friends.  How will he be treated in New York if the Knicks plans to rebuild around him fail?  Sometimes being a big fish in a small pond can be the better choice – especially when that team can pay you better and contend for a title.


The US Supreme Court ruled against the NFL in an anti-trust lawsuit.  The league is being sued by apparel maker American Needle, Inc.  The company alleges that the manner in which the NFL collectively bargains with apparel companies is in violation of anti-trust laws. In the case of American Needle, they had produced hats for a variety of NFL teams before the NFL awarded an exclusive headgear contract to Reebok.  American Needle would prefer that teams could make independent decisions on apparel licensing.  It is important to note that the scope of this case was limited to apparel licensing and does not impact the league’s collective bargaining with players.  The case now goes back to a lower court that had previously ruled against American Needle. 

Former Major League pitcher Jose Lima passed away on Sunday at the age of 37.  In 1999, Lima won 21 games and was named to the All Star team.  In 1998 and 1999, Lima went a combined  37-18 with a 3.64 ERA.  For the rest of his career, he was 52-84.  As an encore to his 1999 campaign, Lima struggled to a 7-16 record with a 6.65 ERA.  His final full season in the majors (2005) was marked by a 5-16 record and a 6.99 ERA.  Through the good times and the bad, Jose Lima appeared to be the happiest guy on the world, declaring it to be “Lima Time” and, in general, acting like a guy who was being paid large sums of money to play a child’s game.  RIP, Jose.  Coincidentally, Lima was on the same Astros pitching staff as Darryl Kile, who died at the age of 33 in 2002.

The Colorado Rockies have been very average so far this year.  After hammering reigning AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke on Sunday, the Rockies went into play on Tuesday with a record of 22-22.  Oddly, they haven’t been more than two games above or below .500 all year.  There are signs that the Rockies could be about to bust out, though.  Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki had been mired in a power slump all year.  After hitting 32 homers last year, he had just a single homer during the first 38 games of the year.  In the last four games, Tulo has hit three homers – all on the road.

Nationals prospect Stephen Strasburg is on the cusp of being called up to the majors.  Delaying the callup this long will allow the Nationals to push back Strasburg’s free agency and arbitration eligibility by a year.  With the Nationals beginning a road trip today, Strasburg’s debut will likely be on June 4th against the Reds in D.C.

Knee Jerk Reactions

February 16, 2010

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It is sometimes human nature to react impusively rather than logically. This happens quite often, but I’ll choose to focus on two recent occurences.

The first occurence are the changes to the luge competition in the aftermath of Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death. His death was most certainly a tragedy. The added retaining wall at the spot where he was ejected from the course is a good idea. Shortening the men’s run by moving their start to the position previously used by the women is not a terrible idea. Shortening the course by these 600 feet (with the accompanying loss of elevation) caused speeds to drop from 95+mph to 90 mph.

The point where I have a concern, however, is the shortening of the women’s course by 800 feet (by moving it to the start point of the Juniors). The women were already at less risk of such extreme accidents by the mere fact that they have a tendency to weigh less than the male competitors (luge is a sport heavily affected by gravity, such that athletes below certain weights are allowed to wear lead weights to boost their mass). Less weight = less speed.  The shortening of the women’s course seems to be an attempt to show that an attempt is being made to ensure safety, when in reality, it is unlikely to make a big difference.  I’m not the only person unhappy about the changes – the competitors themselves were less than thrilled.

The second occurence is probably more likely simply sloppy reporting than intentional exaggeration.   I recently read an article about future Hall of Fame NBA player Tim Duncan. In an effort to show how important Duncan is, the writer pointed to the huge improvement from the 20-62 record the Spurs had he year before he joined the team (1996-97) to the 56-26 record they achieved in Duncan’s first year with the team – implying that Duncan was largely responsible for the 36 win improvement.

Tim Duncan is a great player, and I have utmost respect for him.   However, in this case, the writer is wrong about his impact.  In 1996-97, Hall of Famer David Robinson – then in the prime of his career – played just six games due to injury and All Star guard Sean Elliott also missed substantial time due to injury.  In 1995-96, The Spurs won 59 games on the heels of a 62 win season and a 55 win season.  The 20 win season of 1996-97 was a severe aberration and did not reflect the true talent of the team.  Using this as a baseline for determining Duncan’s impact is, in a word, lazy.

And in other sports new …

In luge, the USA’s Erin Hamlin had a disappointing first day.  After a first run of 41.835 seconds that had her eight overall, she slipped to a time of 42.219 in the second run.  That time was twentieth best in the run, and dropped her combined standing to fifteenth – and a long shot to make a run at a medal.  To nobody’s surprise, three time reigning Luge Word Cup champion Tatjana Hüfner of Germany was in the lead after Monday’s runs.  Hüfner’s 41.760 was third best in the first run.  She then put put down a blistering 41.481 in the second run, setting a track record. The Luge will finish with two more runs this afternoon.

Jamie MacMurray won a marathon Daytona 500.  The race was red flagged a couple of times as officials worked to fix a hole in the track -(yep, the NASCAR folks fix potholes much faster than your local DOT.  Although it was unfortunate that my favorite driver – Tony Stewart – didn’t pick up the win, it’s hard to root against a guy like MacMurray.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to acquire Amare Stoudamire.  Hopefully, LeBron James appreciates what the Cavs are doing and stays put.  Seriously, LeBron, you’re a god in Cleveland and you have a good team around you.  Why trade this in to go to the Knicks – a team in tatters – simply to be in the media spotlight more.  Seriously, you’re getting plenty of attention as it is.

The NFL could be heading toward an uncapped year in 2010.  If this happens, there could be some huge salaries for 2010.  The uncapped year would be the result of owners opting out of the current collective bargaining agreement early.  The labor agreement was originally slated to last through 2013; the owners exercised an option to opt out after the 2011 season.  The uncapped seasons of 2010 and 2011 (assuming that a new agreement is not reached) is a poison pill tied to the owners opting out.  The players’ share of revenues is a key sticking point.  The players currently received 60% of revenues.  The owners would like to see this number shrink.  One beef the players have is that the owners won’t show them financial records.  On this particular point, I am forced to side with the players.  In most cases, I would say that a business has the right to keep their financial records secret.  However, you can’t tie the players’ salary cap to a component of finances without allowing the other side to review the records for accuracy and completeness – this leaves the door wide open for fraudulent behavior.  Don’t want the players to be able to look at your records?  Fine – then don’t tie the salary cap to revenue.

Sports Beat

May 12, 2009

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Who is more upset right now? The Los Angeles Dodgers ownership, or all of the fantasy baseball nuts who have ManRam on their squads and have to find a 50 game replacement? I thing the Red Sox are pretty happy they have Jason Bay right now with all of the problems of their former left fielder on the West Coast.

Rachel Alexandra, who won the Kentucky Oaks (a race for fillies ran on Friday before the derby), is looking to run in the Preakness Stakes. Sounds like she will get her chance to run against the boys. A number of owners who did not run in the Kentucky Derby had considered entering horses in the race. This would have in effect blocked her ability to run in the race due to a hierarchy system that gives preference to those horses who were pre-nominated to the Derby. I am glad this worked out or we would be screaming Title IX for the horse racing next.

The Kansas City Royals are 18-14 and on top of the American League Central. A new refurbished Kaufman stadium is not the only reason fans are showing up. This small market team once again shows that if you put a good and WINNING product on the field, the fans will come out to the ol ballgame. The Royals have been very good on the mound but losing Joakim Soria on the disabled list will not help their cause. Keep an eye on these guys and see how they respond in the next couple of weeks.

I bet the Lakers are rethinking their inability to sign Ron Artest earlier this past year. There have been so many radio talking heads and fish wrap folks talking about how soft the Lakers are in the playoffs that you would think they were describing the bedding in a new hotel chain.

Speaking of NBA playoffs. Here are some stats on League MVP Lebron James in the postseason. He is averaging 34 points, almost 9 boards and 5 assists per game in the playoffs. Scariest stat of all…his age….just 24.

Being the golf fan that I am, I watched a LOT of the Players Championship this weekend. It amazes me how good the pros can play as they continue to make the course conditions tougher all the time. I look forward to the switch back to the “old style” grooves next year on the PGA tour so we can see all of these guys look more like us and less like a video game when they play.

The U.S. Open is just around the corner. I wonder what Tiger is thinking – right now as he is really fighting his golf swing as well as his putter. I think soon he will put it all together, but in the meantime, some of these other guys better make hay while they can. Until next week, hit em long and straight!