Friday, December 17, 2010
New York: Who'd want LeBron James?
By Henry Abbott
Amare Stoudemire is doing wonderful things for the Knicks. This basketball-mad city has been without good hoops news for so long, and here he comes, like Santa Claus, handing out dunks, highlights, quotes, smiles and wins.
For a long time, the appropriate response to "I'm a Knicks fan" has been "oh, I'm sorry." But no more, thanks to Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Landry Fields and a soft schedule of late. There are twinkles of hope.
What most would take from that is: Be happy!
What many New Yorkers are taking from that: "Praise the heavens we didn't get that loser LeBron James."
I'm not kidding. The city is high on Stoudemire, to the point of delirium. Consider the normally measured Harvey Araton, writing in The New York Times today about LeBron James:
But was [LeBron James] a big enough guy to man the burden of resurrecting the Knicks? Obviously not -- or at least not as ready, willing and capable as was Amar’e Stoudemire.
Holy mother of revisionist history.
This past summer, we learned that the best players in the NBA are more precious and rare than teams with cap space. James topped that power pyramid, with six teams taking turns begging for his services.
He chose the one that suited him best, for his own reasons, which had a lot to do with what any of us would want: Working with people he wanted to work with.
Despite the best market in the world, and some of the deepest pockets in sports, the Knicks were rebuffed -- and at the time nobody wondered why. The upper brass of that franchise has, over the last decade, written the manual on how not to build a contender.
With their millions, their market, and their cap space, they did manage to land -- at top dollar -- the major free agent with the worst injury history. It's tremendous that the Knicks and their fans are thrilled with how things are working out now -- it's fun for all of us to watch that happy marriage.
But did we learn, from all that, something really insightful about James being incapable of leadership? The guy who announced he was the leader or Team USA, featuring Wade and Kobe Bryant? The guy who has produced on the court more than any player since Michael Jordan? The guy who faced the same criticism in Cleveland recently and was more than a little alpha-doggy in scoring 38 in three quarters?
The truth is that Stoudemire has expectations (Jeff Van Gundy said yesterday that the Knicks are "overachieving ... greatly") and the real reason New York loathes James is not because he's so flawed, but because he's so good. They wanted him. They really wanted him. They didn't get him, and feelings are hurt. Rather than admitting that, there's an urge to demonize the guy who dumped them. It's fun, and part of the theater of sports. But it's not the truth.