Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Thoughts On LeBron

TigerBlog's favorite professional sports team is by far the New York Giants. His next favorite team has always been the Knicks, who haven't exactly made rooting easy through recent years.

TB, in fact, went to Madison Square Garden often as a kid, when FatherBlog would take him to see the great Knick teams coached by Red Holtzman and featuring Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Jerry Lucas, Dave DeBusschere, Earl Monroe and of course Bill Bradley. TB's favorite player by far was Clyde (that's Frazier, to those who don't know), though if he knew what his career path would become, he probably would have chosen Bradley.

As an aside, Lucas, who was one of the great college centers of all-time (Ohio State) and who played on the 1973 championship team for the Knicks, was famous for being a, well, genius, one with a photographic memory (which enabled him to memorize the phone book). TB read stories about how Lucas did mental exercises to keep his mind sharp, including one where he'd take a word and instantly put all the letters of the word into alphabetical order.

Anyway, the current Knicks aren't quite as romantic a group as they were back then. These days, they are among the hardest franchises to root for in all of professional sports, although they aren't quite as brutal as they were a few years ago.

The team's recent philosophy has been to get rid of as many contracts as possible to be able to sign LeBron James, who is now an unrestricted free agent. Perhaps you've heard about this?

All any Knick fan heard about the last two years was that LeBron was coming, LeBron was coming. Oh, and he was bringing Dwyane Wade with him. Let the championships flow.

Instead, the Knicks have signed Amare Stoudemire to a $100 million contract, despite he obvious facts that 1) he has a history of injury, and 2) he's at his best when he has a great point guard like Steve Nash.

Still, the Knicks hold off hope that LeBron will be signing as well.

TigerBlog looks at this whole thing with three thoughts.

Let's start with the idea that TB is a Knick fan and wants to see the Knicks do well, and the only player TB has ever liked to watch play more than LeBron is Michael Jordan. Even with that background, TB wants LeBron to stay in Cleveland, because that seems to be where he belongs.

Second, TB is way more familiar with college athletics obviously. In college sports, rosters turn over completely every four or at most five (with some rare exceptions of six) years. It's simply the nature of how it works.

Building a team in professional sports should be different than it is on the college level, because you're trying to make decisions that are going to bring the right players for five to 10 years. This doesn't even take into account the financial impact of those decisions. Suppose Stoudemire flops in New York. The Knicks can't really do anything about it.

Rebuilding a team, or a program, in the college ranks is much different. You're looking at 16-18 year old kids who have no proven body of work other than against other kids.

The lifeblood of any college athletic program is recruiting. While summer may seem a tame time for college sports, it's actually in many ways the most crucial. Coaches everywhere are out evaluating talent at summer camps and tournaments, which have in many (most, actually) sports have become way more important than the high school team.

To be a successful college coach, you have to know your stuff in terms of Xs and Os, but none of that will matter if you can't find the talent. When you get into coaching in college, the idea of having to recruit is a given.

In the case of LeBron and the other NBA free agents, recruiting has been replaced a bit by groveling. In one of the stories that TB wrote about Pete Carril, he spoke to Chris Mooney (now the Richmond coach) about what Carril's recruiting approach was like. Mooney said that Carril took him up to his office, put on a tape of Mooney as he played at Archbishop Ryan High School and told him everything he did wrong.

TB's thought is that LeBron understands that he's going to make a lot of money no matter what and that what he really wants is to know that he's going to have his best shot at winning a championship wherever he lands. Either that, or he's just in it to see how much he can make everyone grovel, but that doesn't seem like his style.

Lastly, TB is fascinated by the way the media coverage of the whole free agency situation has gone. It's been such tremendous overkill, with countdown clocks and over-analysis and predictions that are based on nothing that nobody will ever remember.

In many ways, it's been completely the opposite of the World Cup coverage.

But there's also the fascinating sidelight of how the players themselves update their web pages and tweet and embrace all forms of new media and social networking to help promote themselves.

At Princeton, we're constantly making decisions about where to put our resources to promote our teams and athletes and to help generate attendance. The more TB sees the world evolve, the more convinced he is that the cell phone is the key.

How do you reach kids, teens and the rest? It's not through the newspaper. It's not on the radio. It's on their phone, which of course accesses the web. Next time you're anywhere, see just how glued society has become to its phone.

Anyway, to recap where TB is on LeBron:

1) recruiting is a natural for college; in the pros it seems really weird
2) the entire episode is a reminder of the ways that Princeton should continue to explore in terms of marketing
3) stay in Cleveland.

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