Monday, December 1, 2008

Barkley's right: LeBron should be quiet


The Summer of 2010 remains a long way off. For instance, here are a few sports events that should happen before then:

The Detroit Lions will win a game. Maybe not multiple games, but a game. Hey, that's a start.

Roger Federer will break Pete Sampras' record of 14 grand-slam titles.

Tiger Woods will inch closer to breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles.

The Michigan basketball team will make its first NCAA Tournament since the long-ago year of 1998.

And on we go...

The point is that November 2008 is no time to be talking about that far-away summer. Not even the almighty LeBron James has that right — yes, even if he's asked that question by the oppressive New York media.

This is what James had to say when asked about the possibility of playing in a New York Knicks uniform after he becomes a free agent:

"I don't know if it's going to happen. But you have to stay open-minded if you're a Knicks fan."

Charles Barkley might have been a controversial player, but you could never doubt his loyalty to the team he was on. After James' visit to the Big Apple, the outspoken former All-Star gave James some sage advice (though he could have worded it more politically correct).

"If I was LeBron James, I would shut the hell up," Barkley said on Dan Patrick's radio show. "I'm a big LeBron fan. He's a stud. You gotta give him his props. I'm getting so annoyed he's talking about what he's going to do in two years. I think it's disrespectful to the game. I think it's disrespectful to the Cavaliers."

Barkley couldn't be more correct. And thankfully he spoke out, because we'll never hear a member of the Cleveland organization speak out against James — unless he kidnaps a cute kid or shoots himself in the leg, or something — because they don't want to do anything that will lower the probability of James re-signing with Cleveland in that much-talked-about summer.

To summarize, James has the Cavaliers hog-tied. He can do whatever he likes, within the law, and say whatever he wants. And hardly anyone in Cleveland will talk bad about him.

So how did James so eloquently respond to Barkley's comment?

"He's stupid. That's all I've got to say about that."

Nice and succinct. Hey, kind of like the answer James should have given when asked about the Summer of 2010.

Seriously. James is a smart man. He understands how the world works. He reads the news, knows what's being said, knows how certain comments are reacted to. So obviously he was aware of how his comments would be interpreted.

All he had to say was this (which, of course, is boring and typical, but also the right thing to say given the situation): "My focus right now is on the Cleveland Cavaliers. I'll deal with that decision when the time comes."

We hear smart athletes make similar statements all the time. Do we enjoy the non-answers to questions? Of course not — they're boring and don't tell us anything. But from the athletes' perspectives, they're doing what's right for their situations.

Now, the immediate impact of James' flirtation with the New York media hasn't seemed to affect his team. The Cavs are on a roll, having won all three games since their rout of the Knicks last Tuesday. While the players had to deal with questions about 2010 instead of their current dominant team, they haven't let the distraction affect their play.

Cleveland rested Monday night 14-3, three and a half games ahead of sagging Detroit in the Eastern Conference's Central Division. Its next game is a home rematch with the Knicks Wednesday night.

The Cavaliers are clearly the second-best team in the East behind the defending-champion Celtics. And last season's playoff series between the teams went to an epic seventh game, which Boston barely survived. So the difference between the squads isn't as big as some might make it out to be.

The point is that James is in a pretty good situation. It's not like he's part of a dysfunctional franchise run by idiots. This Cleveland team, with its current makeup, is capable of winning an NBA title. Sure, it'd help for James to have an All-Star sidekick such as Michael Redd.

But it's not like Cleveland did nothing during the offseason to help James' cause. The Cavs signed point guard Mo Williams, who is only the team's second-leading scorer and is dishing out 4.6 assists per game (also second on the team behind you-know-who).

James has nothing to complain about — except Cleveland's crappy weather — and to his credit, he has been very upbeat about the 2008-09 Cavaliers.

So why even think about 2010? Why look ahead at all. The opportunity that sits in front of James this season has to be as tantalizing as the thought of moving to New York in 2010:

James has a chance to lead the city arguably the most hungry for a major-sports title to a championship. By giving Cleveland a title, or sticking around and winning multiple trophies, James could be remembered as the single greatest athlete in the history of Cleveland.

If he goes to New York, he'll be fighting Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig, and company, and the handfuls of championships the various sports teams have captured. If he made the move and didn't win a title there, he'd be termed a failure. That wouldn't happen in Cleveland.

But that's James' decision to make ... in a year and a half.

Until then, he'd be smart to devote all his basketball attention to the great opportunity he has in Cleveland playing on one of the NBA's best teams in front of adoring sold-out crowds every night.

Live in the present, LeBron; the Summer of 2010 will be here soon enough.

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