I received an e-mail about my LeBron James article last week. It read, “How do you think the little White kids feel right now? They go to school and are taught that discriminnation is wrong. Then they go out in to the workplace and find that everything they have been told about Blacks being discriminated against, is actually happening to them.
“They all say it’s wrong and then they use the history of slavery to support the argument that the White people deserve to be discriminated against because of it. How do you think the little White kids feel right now? The only class of people that may have owned slaves is not affected by affirmative (nothing good about it) action.”
When the 2009-10 NBA basketball season ended recently and the most exciting free agent class in the league’s history was allowed to seek their fortunes freely, never thought it would end with me getting an e-mail like the above referenced one.
When Curt Flood challenged baseball for free agency before the Supreme Court, I’m sure he never thought years later it would lead to such mystifying, polarizing and angry banter.
But that is exactly what has happened. The media, NBA Commissioner David Stern, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and everyone but James has chimed in.
Since free agency has been placed in the collective bargaining agreements of professional sports, there have been thousands of players moving, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen this much scorn and hate spoken about one person exercising his earned right to chose his destiny.
Let’s put a few facts on the table one more time. When the Cavaliers selected James with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draf,t he joined a team that was 17-65 the season before he arrived.
In three years James transformed the lowly Cavaliers into a playoff contender, ending the 2005-2006 season with a 50-32 record, clinching the franchise’s first playoff spot since 1998. He led the franchise to its only NBA Finals in 2007.
So what happened that would lead one to write me that off-the- wall, bizarre e-mail?
I have to start with my brethren in the giant media world. They speak with forked tongues. They lambast athletes for being selfish and more worried about money than winning. But along come three men who unselfishly leave up to $30 million on the table for a chance at winning. But my brothers twist that and say if Miami wins a title it will not mean as much to them. What? You’ve got to be kidding me! Charles Barkley, Ernie Banks and Dan Mario would take a championship in retirement if they could.
They claim Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan did not do that. But the fact they leave off the table is Magic had the top scoring center in NBA history. Bird had two Hall of Famers and Duncan and David Robinson were the best center tandem in NBA history. Jordan had Hall of Fame forward Scottie Pippen. None of them did it alone.
Next, I’m not saying Gilbert’s attack on James was racially motivated, but he did fan the racial flames. His letter to disappointed Cleveland fans, in which he referred to LeBron, 25, as “narcissistic” and a “coward” as well as calling his decision to play for Miami a “betrayal,” turned the heat up on the entire ordeal. He went further saying that James has gotten a free pass for too long and that he tanked games in the playoffs.
Gilbert, knowingly or not, ignited the race fires. I believe he stirred his fan base with his comments in an emotional, irrational way, hoping they would pay to see a team that has no chance of winning. He treated James like a boy, not a man, free agent or business entrepreneur capable of making his own decision.
Gilbert’s rant induced Jackson to interject. “He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His feelings of betrayal personify a slave-master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner/employee relationship between business partners and LeBron honored his contract.”
Jackson’s comments as they seem to do have had a polarizing affect as evident by that email I received. But they do make one take notice. He did say the owner should face a “challenge” from the league and the players’ association.
Commissioner Stern took notice and action as he calmed the stormy waters of word war. In an interview he touched everyone without ruffling a feather.
He called James’ ESPN telecast “ill-conceived and ill-advised.” He tagged Gilbert for his childish rant $100,000 for fueling the flames of hatred and moving this spectacle needlessly to unchartered ground. He noted that James was completely within his rights to act on his free agent status. About Jackson he said, “We will just call this a disagreement among friends.”
I guess this entire show just shows how giant the great perceptions divide in this country is. Some blame James, who gave Cleveland seven of his prime years, others blame Gilbert and many are annoyed at Jackson’s retort. How all that led to the e-mail I received just leaves me scratching my head.
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.