Some people just can’t let some things go. One of my favorite sports writers has now so invested himself in hating LeBron James that he inserts cheap shots in columns which have nothing to do with LeBron. Normally I am a fan of gratuitous insults — for example, anything at the expense of the New York Yankees, a hatred I share with Simmons, is always welcome — so my criticism here is not of insults. But part of the appeal of that type of insult is exactly that you don’t see it coming and it is irreverent.
In his latest column, Simmons reaches more than Ernie DiGregorio in a Harlem summer league game. In an ode to the sports world latest loveable loser, Tiger Woods, he states that Woods shares the same gift as Michael Jordan. So here we have a Simmons pontificating about Tiger Woods in a way that a younger Simmons would have dedicated an entire mailbag to ridiculing – an excerpt:
Two decades later, Tiger left a similar crater that we haven’t filled. We hated The Decision because we talked ourselves into LeBron maybe possessing that same gift; by choosing South Beach and Dwyane Wade, he was telling us, “You were wrong.” That made us angry. That hurt our feelings. We looked around, searched for someone else, couldn’t find him. We bided our time. And suddenly, there was Tiger on Sunday, making another run at Augusta, pulling us back in yet again. The moralizing is over. The jokes are done. (Most of them, anyway.) We chopped him down to size, made him human, made him bleed. He never caved.
Woods never caved, really? Has Woods won a tournament since he was clubbed in 2009? Wasn’t Woods tied for the lead on the back nine on Sunday with inexperienced players? Haven’t his latest two supposed porn star dates been featured in movies which went straight to video? Define cave Bill.
But lets focus on the illogic of the LeBron jibe. According to Simmons, the gift in the case of Jordan and Woods was to make us care. Their athletic ability was so superior, it transcended their sport and nothing [and he really means nothing] about them off the field could diminish the gift. Despite all his powers of observation, LeBron had even Simmons fooled during his first seven years in the NBA. Although in an embarrassing hedge, Simmons describes his misdiagnosis as something he “had talked himself into, [LeBron] possibly possessing the gift.” Wow, balls to the wall on that one Billy.
So given his criteria, the question for Simmons is, what about LeBron deciding to exercise his free agency together with Wade would cause him to the remove the gift tag that he “possibly had previously talked himself into?” I’m assuming he considered LeBron’s talent level unaffected by free agency. If anything, this NBA season reinforced the uniqueness of LeBron’s talent, when his production level remained consistent despite playing with other great players. It also can’t be the championship angle, since Woods apparently still possesses it after not winning across three calendar years. The gift, like some religious ritual, once conferred cannot be rescinded.
The “make us care” criteria is where the wheels really come off in Simmons logic. Who else in sports today could have changed franchises and generated an unprecedented level of interest which filtered down to the entire league? Denying LeBron the ‘gift’ tag is only the latest shot from Simmons. Far from flowing naturally, the LeBron shots increasingly appear to be driven almost by contractual obligations.
One thing for sure, if the Miami Heat win the NBA championship, Simmons rep as an NBA expert should take a hit. How could it not, he has staked out a position on the biggest NBA story of his talking head generation, and he will have missed it completely. But why? Why would someone who loves the game, allow the hype to distract from the focus on the game? I say the reason is cultural. It’s not so much what LeBron did, but where he ended up. Miami, not Chicago, not New York.