Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

LeBron: Blame Canada Instead

Posted on July 25, 2010 by Ryan Durling

You can’t blame LeBron James.


LeBron was born in December of 1984. Not two years later, Run-DMC covered Aerosmith’s 1977 hit, “Walk This Way.”

Those two facts are very much related.

See, everyone went up in arms when LeBron broke up the LeBronettes and decided to play backup guitar in Dwayne Wade’s band. But he really only did what successful athletes/artists/actors have been doing his entire life.

Prior to the mid-80s, it was rare to see anybody go to bat for one of their rival’s teams – figuratively or literally speaking. When DMC covered Aerosmith, suddenly collaboration became the thing to do. It was a surefire way of saying, “yeah, I know I’m good, but imagine how good I could be with somebody else whose talents equal mine in a complimentary manner.”

Bird never would have played with Johnson. Russell never would have played with Wilt or Kareem. But why would they? They were the best at what they did and who needed anybody else?

The Prince still has some work to do before NBA fans will anoint him King.

Elvis didn’t mix with anybody else, and neither did the Beatles or Beach Boys a decade after him. Steve Miller? Don Henley? Freddie Mercury? He shared everything else with the world, but not his musical talents. None of them collaborated.

What about Pacino or Stallone or Harrison? Or DeNiro? Not in the 70s, anyway. Ford and Stallone, now well aware that they’re past their respective primes, have done a great job in supporting roles in the last 15 years or so – the atrocious Rocky Balboa notwithstanding.

Not even in the 80s did movie stars go out of their way to collaborate. Bruce Willis, Nic Cage and Tom Cruise – all rising stars in their own right – carried their own films, some more admirably than others.

But around the mid-80s, right when Run and Aerosmith were changing the game for good, a young Michael J. Fox teamed with Christopher Lloyd for the trans-generational hit Back to the Future. Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman tag teamed on Rain Man. The rest of the 80s would see some classic teams produce epic hits: Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams (1988),  Costner and Tim Robbins in Bull Durham (1988), and Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally 1989).

It took longer for collaboration to catch on in music, primarily because there was such a divide in the 80s between the long-established Rock scene and the up-and-coming hip-hop genre. Ice Cube, Ice T, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre worked together late in the 80s in their N.W.A. project, but produced but one hit together, “F*ck the Police,” which earned a letter of warning from the FBI and will likely go down in history as the song that started the rap movement.

Dre and Snoop Dogg began the 90s by collaborating on a glut of hits that – mercifully – pushed MC Hammer and Right Said Fred quickly off the front pages of the Billboard charts. En Vogue and Salt-N-Pepa, two groups influenced by Dre, were no strangers to collaboration either. It was Tupac who made collaboration big in hip-hop, however, working with artists from different labels and pushing their careers forward.

Of course, tracking any sort of musical history once the 90s hit is a relative impossibility – genres divided and sub-divided, bands re-invented themselves to keep their fan base happy and the advent of “Pop/Rock” became a catch-all for producers too busy marketing to actually define what kind of music their musicians produced. In music, collaboration remains biggest in the hip-hop category, with names like Diddy, T-Pain, and Eminem known for their collaborative efforts both within and outside of the genre.

Anyone not in Miami is probably hoping the NBA's new all-star team has as much luck as these guys did together.

While it’s safe to say that while LeBron doesn’t remember watching When Harry Met Sally, he’s probably heard at least a few of Dre or Em’s shared efforts. And if he’s seen a movie or two in the past 20 years, chances are pretty good he’s seen two or more actors put their talents together for the sake of fame, bigger paychecks or both.

Forrest Gump. Titanic. The Shrek series. Independence Day. Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3. Some of the highest-grossing movies of all time. Each of them had at least two big names on their payroll. And a quick look at some of this year’s highest-grossing releases further underscores that point:

Alice in Wonderland – Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter

Toy Story 3 – Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack

Robin Hood – Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett

There’s something to be said for competitive nature, sure. But Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Kevin James all just made a movie together. Five years ago, not one of them would have teamed up with another of their most talented counterparts to make a feature production.

Collaboration isn’t limited to popular culture. Researchers the world over are collaborating to analyze, diagnose or discover better. Disney now uses ABC to televise major sporting events instead of ESPN so that more people can see the games. We live in an age when people are as likely to find a job because of someone they know as they are to find it because of how they interview or how well-structured their cover letter is.

“Social Networking” – a term that out-and-out implies collaboration – is a part of our everyday vernacular.

And in sports, it’s every bit as common as a steroid scandal.

The Patriots nearly went 19-0 in the year when they added Randy Moss and Wes Welker to Tom Brady’s arsenal. The Cowboys and Bills in the 90s thrived with Aikman, Irvin and Smith and Kelly, Reed and Thomas, respectively.

The Celtics, famous for their original Big Three, won 66 games the first year they brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to town (not to mention James Posey, P.J. Brown and Tony Allen).

The Atlanta Braves won the NL East every year from 1991-2005, many of those years marked by the arms of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. The Yankees and Red Sox, consummate courters of the top-tier talent in baseball, are regularly the best team in their league – if only we could find a way to get them to play in the World Series.

The Penguins and Blackhawks – two teams with the best young trios in the NHL – have won the last two Stanley Cups.

It’s not just America, either. Manchester United – the richest of all sports franchises throughout the world – are staples in the UEFA Premier League’s championship rounds. Japanese baseball has established numerous rules that keep parity within the NPB.

The Music Video that Changed everything.

So maybe what LeBron’s doing isn’t so ridiculous.

Waves of old-school NBA fans don’t understand why LeBron didn’t go to New York or Chicago. Two simple reasons: taxes, and the fact that those teams haven’t been recently what they once were. For LeBron to go to the Bulls would have been saying that he thinks he’s better than MJ – a stark contrast from his suggestion last year that no player should wear 23 in deference to His Airness. He’s made it obvious that he already thinks he’s bigger than the game, but it’s good to see that some things are still sacred.

As for the Knicks, they’ve really only had one great season since LeBron was out of diapers – the ’94 season when they lost in 7 games to Olajuwon’s Rockets in the Finals.

He didn’t owe Cleveland anything; he spent 7 years there trying to win, but Dan Gilbert didn’t make any effort to put the team around him that he needed. It’s sad for the fans that he left, but the Cavs had no birthright to LeBron – if that were the case, Pierce would be a Laker, Kobe a Sixer, Howard a Hawk, Wade a Bull, Durant a Wizard, Bosh a Maverick, Nowitzki a Wurzburg-er, Johnson a Grizzly, Rondo a Pacer and Paul, a Bobcat.

LeBron was never going to go to the Clippers. Should he have gone to the Nets? Probably. But he didn’t and that’s over.

The uproar, of course, was less over where he went and much more over why he went there and how he did it. He said he went to Miami to win, and it looks like he has a good chance to do that now. As long as the narcissism that created “The Decision” doesn’t manifest itself on the court, where he’ll get less looks than he ever has before.

It was truly an abject display of selfishness, and the fact that LeBron’s team tried to cover it up by associating the Boys and Girls Clubs of America with it only makes it more shameful. ESPN should be blamed for allowing it to happen, though nobody could say that they expected otherwise.

This Big Three has more pressure on them than any star athletes in the history of sport.

But to criticize LeBron for wanting to win, if it’s what he truly wants, seems a little unfair. Sure, he gave up any chance of being in the top ten all-time players and he lost a lot of respect because of how he handled free agency, but didn’t he look a little uncomfortable sitting on that makeshift stage with Jim Gray interrogating him? Don’t you think he maybe realized just how silly all the nonsense he has to go through just to play basketball is, albeit after it was too late? Doesn’t he just want to play the game, at the end of the day?

I, for one, hope that he does. He’s a fantastically talented athlete and put himself in a position where he might be able to make basketball history the likes of which we’ve never seen. He only did what he’s seen everyone who wants to get better do during his entire life – give up a little fame to get a little recognition. We are, after all, merely a product of our surroundings, and LeBron shouldn’t be put under a microscope for acting the way he’s been shown to act for 25 years.

He should be put under a microscope because, quite simply, that’s what celebrities are these days, and he hasn’t shied away from his celebrity at all. He should be put under a microscope because that’s what he asked for when he flirted with six teams, then stabbed his own in the back in front of a national television audience. Still, microscope or not, he now has a chance to prove himself a champion athlete, and that’s a right that shouldn’t be taken from him. He did, after all, take a substantial pay cut and agree to a sign-and-trade with his former team to get where he is now.

Does that mean I’ll root for the Heat, or LeBron in particular? Absolutely not. I’d rather see Kobe and Phil Jackson win titles annually for the next 30 years than see LeBron win one. You can’t announce that you’re bigger than the game that made you and expect people to root for you. But if he shows that he’s willing to be a team player, take his lumps, plays second-fiddle to Wade and goes to London in a couple summers and wins another gold medal for the U.S.?

Well, maybe.

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