LeBron…This is Why You Will Never Be Michael Jordan

LeBron James is the most athletic, talented, and arguably strongest pound-for-pound player in the league today. He has the gall to take, and hit, circus-clutch shots like this (skip to 2:54)…and this (skip to :45), yet under 24 seconds in the final period, he’s a consistent no-show.

LeBron James is the “The fans’ pressure greatly affects me” poster-child. And we¬† love it. We fans know we have the collective ability to greatly affect arguably the most powerful character in the NBA.

That’s why it’s so much fun to hate LeBron James – because it works.

*For the record, I do feel bad for LeBron. All he wants is to be loved… it’s just not working out for him.

Dear LeBron,
Here’s a list of your PR moves that made me cringe:

7/8/10 The Decision, & “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach”
How you interpret this: I’m benefiting a charity. This is a great PR move.
How the fans do: “My talents?!” ugh…and yes LeBron, you are the center of attention. I know that’s what you want. Thanks for making yourself bigger than the game.

11/30/11 – Tossing out free T-shirts at an Ohio St. basketball game
How you interpret this: I still love you guys. I’ll never forget where I came from!
How the fans do: It’s like Benedict Arnold giving out free burgers & dogs on Independence Day.

10/11/11 – Tweeting to ESPN’s John Clayton asking when NFL teams can sign free agents.
How you interpret this: The NBA is locked out, but I’m a football fan like the rest of ya!
How the fans do: Why are you worrying about football?! Don’t you care the NBA canceled the first two weeks of the season yesterday?

2/17/12 – Announcing you wouldn’t rule out going back to Cleveland
How you interpret this: I was loved in Cleveland, maybe THAT’S my key to being loved again.
How we do: LeBron… ugh just don’t say anything.

The interesting theme here is (I feel) LeBron truly thinks these aforementioned slip-ups would result in a more positive public image. However, LeBron has dug himself a PR hole so deep he can’t escape with a few pseudo-events or actions. To improve his image, he must at least play a major role in a Heat championship, and multiple times – a feat immensely difficult. I’ll talk about this more later.

And why, LeBron, do you make your twitter handle @KingJames? It comes off as self-centered to the average fan – especially the ones who love hating you.

On a random note, Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant, Eli Manning, and Albert Pujols don’t really tweet. Do the winners naturally avoid twitter? Do great ones recognize social media as a distraction? A concentration retarder? Let me know in the comments.

Fans try to affect all superstars. The difference is the truly great ones either ignore or thrive off the hate. What happens when Kobe, Reggie, Jeter, Eli, Michael, and any other big time winners get hated on?

Kobe Bryant – He was blacklisted after his sexual assault case in 2003. Today, he’s arguably the closest player to Michael Jordan. Kobe claims he has had not rivals in his career, and I think he’s right.

Reggie Miller – No championships, but if you don’t think there was a direct correlation between pressure and performance, watch ESPN’s documentary Winning Time: Reggie vs. The New York Knicks.

Derek Jeter – Five-time World Series Champion in America’s biggest market. Non-Yankees fans have been trying to hate Jeter for 17 years, yet he continues to show he is unaffected.

Eli Manning – The biggest reason why the Gotham Giants have won their two most recent Super Bowls. Okay, you can argue defense carried them in 2007, but not in 2011.

Michael Jordan

LeBron has made some big mistakes in his NBA career – only some aforementioned, but his biggest mistake is one he has yet to overcome – not being himself. He wants to be Michael Jordan so badly. Choosing #23 for the first seven years of his career was LeBron’s inaugural mistake.

It showed weakness. It immediately conveyed he wanted to follow in Michael’s footsteps, not pave his own legacy.

Michael takes the final shot. He didn’t care what you thought. Reggie wanted Knicks fans to hate him – and what happened the last time he played at the Garden? Knicks fans serenaded him with respect – chanting “Reggie! Reggie!” as he left the floor. Barring a crazy steroid scandal or anything unforeseen, Derek Jeter will be cheered in his final game at Fenway Park. I guarantee it.

Fans aren’t dumb. We know who the star players are. Fans judge a player not just by physical ability, but reaction to immense pressure. LeBron has failed to show he can handle the latter.

LeBron, in your best-case-scenario form, here’s how you can become loved again:

1) Fail in Miami. Not on purpose, but if you win even one championship here then leave for Cleveland, it conveys, “Okay, I got one – I’m ready to help you guys now.” Because that’s a slap in the face.

2) Opt Out and Return to Cleveland – Prove to the fans in Cleveland you’ll give up what you went to Miami for – a shortcut to an NBA Title. That will convey, “It doesn’t mean anything if I don’t win it in Cleveland.”

3) Lead Cleveland to an NBA Title

Be The King.

But right now, where’s the killer instinct LeBron? If you don’t have it… that’s okay. Honestly. If you can’t be Michael Jordan it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person nor are you a bad basketball player. If you win in Miami congratulations – that takes hard work. However, you will never be Michael if you win in Miami. You’ll never get back Cleveland’s respect, and you can keep your twitter handle @KingJames because it won’t mean anything.

The King? I have a new one…Dwyane’s Prince.

MLB 2012 – The Year of the Perennial Losers

I can smell the fresh cut grass. I can hear the familiar pop of a crisply throw baseball into a worn-in mitt. I envision the players picking grounders, lackadaisically stretching in the outfield, and taking soft toss batting practice while the hot sun beams down on the field. Few things generate the given euphoria I feel every year when I hear those words.

Baseball is back.

But 2012 is set up to be a strange season. Usually, by the Winter Meetings you have a general idea of what teams will be there come August/September – Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Cardinals, etc.

Not as much this year.

2012 is capable of housing a severe shake-up in the standings. Perennial losers have worked up their farm systems to achieve at least share of preseason credibility, and some big market teams have a realistic chance to have a down year. Here are some surprise teams to look out for in 2012:

Miami Marlins
New manager, New players, New fan base, New image, New attitude

The “loser” mentality is gone. The new ballpark in Miami will attract more fans and the young players will thrive off the energy of a home crowd – something they could only dream of in Sun Life Stadium.

The Ozzie Guillen move was perfect. His no-BS attitude will halt any ingrained pessimism inherited from playing in front of consistent 8,000 fan crowds. He’ll manage his young players correctly (they’ll hate him, but Guillen will make them winners) and bring some media attention to the team – therefore pulling in the casual fan.

Jose Reyes was a steal. He comes back to a warm-weather climate comparable to his home in the Dominican Republic, his home crowd won’t hate him, and – let’s just face it, he’s not on the Mets. He won’t bat .337 again, but he won’t be a cancer either.

(On a side note, Reyes’ flawed attitude was showcased after his self-dismissal last year to secure the batting title. I would not want him on my team. This deal may be real bad in three years, but this year he’ll be a stud.)

Emilio Bonafacio had a breakout year in 2011. He batted .296, was third on the team in doubles, and can play anywhere on the field. If he can limit his strikeouts (129 in 152 games in 2011) he’ll be a key player.

Mike Stanton is a baller. He’ll be fine this year.

Final Record: 83-79, 3rd in the NL East.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Young talent, Easy division, Unexpected leader

On July 19th, the Pirates were 51-44 and sat atop the NL Central. They have the talent to be good – and they will be. Inexperience is usually the diagnosis of a young team’s late season failures, as was the case in 2011. But what veteran has the possibility to lead the Pirates in 2012?…

A.J. Burnett.

I’ve said it since 2010. The first year out of New York will be a rejuvenation season for Burnett. Didn’t matter what team he played on. He couldn’t handle New York (yes, he did during Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, and it’s the sole reason he leaves NYC on good terms), but in Pittsburgh, there’s no pressure. He’s going to be more relaxed, content, and effective. Look for Burnett to go 15-9 with a 3.30 ERA in 2012.

Andrew McCutchen had a different season in 2011. His home runs were up but his batting average was down. If he can level out yet continue to work those walks, he can set the pace for an offense that struggled mightily last season. They were 14th in the NL in runs scored in 2011.

The top two teams in the NL Central in 2011 will take severe steps back in 2012. The NL Central champion Brewers lost their best player Ryan Braun for 50 games and their second best player Prince Fielder for life. When Braun comes back, who knows what kind of player he’ll be.

*2/24 UPDATE: The Brewers will get off to a better fifty game start now that Braun’s suspension has been reversed. The Pirates will have to overcome Braun’s presence which will be a daunting task.

The World Series Champion Cardinals lost Albert Pujols and their eventual Hall of Fame Manager. Do I think that’s enough to catapult the Pirates past the Cardinals in the standings? Honestly… no, but there’s a chance.

Will this be the season the Pirates finally have a winning season? They haven’t had one in 19 years, a record in the four major sports.

Yes; 83-79 at season’s end.

Kansas City Royals
If Not Now, When?

I have to throw the Royals in here because they will be good. I just don’t know whether this year or in four. The Royals have had the strongest farm system in baseball for some time. The players have had a long time to grow into the game and are now expected to make a splash in the standings.

If Eric Hosmer can be as good as people think he may be, he can set the pace for this young team. Don’t be surprised if the Royals start the season 15-5. Of course they won’t keep that pace up, but they’ll be fun to watch in 2012.

Final Record: 80-82, nine game improvement from 2011 (71-91).

Washington Nationals
Stephen Strasberg, Winning Atmosphere

The Nationals are going to be real good this season. They have some scary talent and a juicy blend of young and seasoned players. Plus, they’ve shown they are committed to winning when they signed Jayson Werth last season.

Strasberg is off Tommy John Surgery, which means he may be throwing even harder than before his injury. Mike Morse will look to work off his stellar 2011 and Jordan Zimmermann is capable of winning 15 games. Zimmermann was 8-11 last season, but with a 3.10 ERA.

Brad Lidge is back to give the Nationals confidence in the ninth, and everyone will go crazy with support for Bryce Harper if he makes his Major League debut in 2012.

If they can score runs and Strasberg has a big campaign, why can’t this team finish 85-77? The NL East is not entirely brutal this season.

I still don’t know if what they have puts them over the hump, so I say their final record is 82-80, but don’t look them over just because they’re the Nationals.

Looking at the opposite end of the Major League spectrum, the Yankees will be good this season, but who knows how the Red Sox will respond after their epic collapse last September? The Phillies proved shutouts don’t mean anything if the offense can’t score, plus they lost Roy Oswalt.

Fantasy owners are going to go crazy in the first two weeks of the season – there’s a lot of unknown talent in this year’s bunch. Many divisions are up for grabs, as well. Either way, baseball is here and never too soon. I have my calendar ready for Opening Night and my mitt literally right next to me.

Play Ball – because baseball is back.