Anthony Davis: Lebron’s creation

LeBron James and Anthony Davis Lakers
Lebron James and Anthony Davis

“I am taking my talents to south beach”, those were the words that came out of Lebron James during the now infamous ‘The Decision’ segment on ESPN in the summer of 2010. He was leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and was joining the Miami Heat, alongside Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. It was not the first time that a superstar athlete decided to join forces with other superstars on a different team, but the way it was done, certainly was different. It opened the door for more ‘decisions’ in the future.

Many sports journalist, fans and players have gone back to this particular moment in time and agree that there is a before and after in the NBA. Today, superstar players are hoping to play with other star players in the league, and some are unwilling to take on the challenge of becoming the ‘savior’ of a particular franchise and build a contender team from scratch.

The creation of super teams was definitely not Lebron’s idea, but on July 8th, 2010, building a team organically, through the draft by the GM and the coach was severely disrupted. All NBA players past, present and future were watching Lebron’s move, including a young Anthony Davis.

After the Lebron move to the Heat in 2010, we saw many more NBA players leaving and joining other super stars around the league. Chris Paul pushed a trade to leave the Hornets and later joined Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan with the Clippers, Kevin Durant left OKC to play alongside Klay and Steph in Golden State, Steve Nash joined Kobe and Dwight Howard in L.A to challenge Lebron’s Heat, and Carmelo Anthony joined Russell Westbrook and Paul George in OKC among several other moves.

As we were all watching those actions taking place in real time, everything was becoming normal. Kevin Durant left OKC to win a championship in Golden State. In some of those finals he faced Lebron James. Although, some people in the media also criticized KD, he was not demonized for wanting to leave OKC.

For once, it signaled a great time to be an NBA player. It meant that players had more freedom to choose where they wanted to play, and at the same time for them, less individual pressure to deliver wins and a championship for a franchise.

In Cleveland, the pressure was all on Lebron James, as their star player, the media marveled at his play, but also blame him for the losses. In contrast, in Miami the media was on Lebron, but they also were on the rest of team.

The pressure to win a championship was on everyone, including the coach. If they lost, it was because ‘there is only one ball or the three stars’, or ‘ Spoelstra doesn’t know how play three stars’ as many journalist were writing at the time. When teams have multiple stars , the blame is usually on everyone.

The best part about it, was that superstar players would still be making the same money or even better money in their contracts. Playing in the team that you want along superstars players while making a fortune, what is wrong with that?

Fans will always remember that Lebron James took the shortcut. He was unable to deliver a championship on his own in Cleveland. He needed help, not just the help from the GM or owner of the team, but help from other superstar players. People were scratching their heads wondering why such a gifted player like Lebron would want to leave and joined someone else’s team, in that case it was Wade’s Miami Heat. We know what eventually happened, he won a few rings in Miami and went back to Cleveland to finally deliver a ring there.

According to LBJ, beating the Celtics in a Heat uniform was like beating the Pistons for Michael. He is obviously referring to him beating the Celtics, not the Cavaliers, and that is a big difference. At his return to Ohio, It is important to remind you that he won that ring in Cleveland by recruiting star players like Kevin Love and J.R Smith, and playing alongside Kyrie Irving did not hurt either. He seemed to do a Miami in Cleveland all over again.

Lebron James is the best all around player I have ever seen. He is arguably the most gifted player in the history of the game. He is strong, he is fast and he is big. He has also won 4 NBA Championships and appeared in 10 NBA finals, those are tremendous accomplishments. But he is not the GOAT, not even close, and that is not even coming from me. After winning the NBA championship with the Lakers most journalist, fans and even players rank him in the top five.

The debate is whether he is 3 or 4 or 5, or at best 2. Ironically, many people place players like Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson, in the mount Rushmore of the NBA. All of them winning multiple championships with one franchise.

The days of the Jordan’s, Duncan’s or Nowitzki’s may be long gone. Although, very few, players like Damian Lillard, Giannis and Bradley Beal have decided to stay in hopes of delivering a championship to their respective teams and their city, most players are looking to join other star players.

Anthony Davis could have stayed in New Orleans were he was drafted. He could have delivered a championship and become the savior of that franchise ala Michael Jordan in Chicago or Tim Duncan in San Antonio. He decided not to. There were rumors that he was considering signing with the Chicago Bulls, that would have been a legacy move. But, winning a championship in his hometown of Chicago was definitely going to be a lot of pressure.

We know that AD desperately wanted the ‘shield’ Lebron had in Miami. He wanted to play with other superstars. It is true that playing in Los Angeles with Lebron has given him a championship. However, he, like Lebron, and Kevin Durant took the shortcut. It is not his fault though, he is the product of the Lebron James era.


MLS: The league of the future?

Gold Cup 2014, Soldier Field
Chicago Fire’s Soldier Field

It was June 17th, 1994, and the eyes of the world were centered at the United States, specifically at the mythical Soldier Field in Chicago. The new version of the Jules Rimet trophy was finally on American soil. The stadium was packed with ‘real’ soccer fans and with world leaders , entertainers and politicians present observing and watching what was labeled at the time the greatest World Cup in history. People across America were also captivated by the inaugural game of the 1994 World Cup watching it on television, breaking all soccer TV ratings. Yes, for the first time in the history of sports, soccer was making the evening news and more importantly soccer was a topic of conversation. The game featured a young Bolivian squad led by Marco ‘El Diablo’ Etcheverry facing off against a world soccer power and champion Germany. It was popular World Cup, and one that was believed would change how Americans viewed the sport. Fans seemed hungry for a soccer league then. However, almost 30 years since US 94′ and by no means soccer is among the most popular sports leagues in America. The question is: What went wrong? Although, the MLS is not as popular as some may thought, the league still looks promising. In order to be successful, there are important steps that the league needs to take to become a popular sports league. If the MLS adopts them, I can assure you that the league can still become the football league of the future.

The first and most important one is to understand the market and its fanbase. It is almost unreal that it took nearly twenty years for MLS management to figure out who its market was. I have to admit that there been significant progress in terms of understanding who is consuming the league in the last few years. However, that was not the case in the late 90’s and 2000s. America unlike what other foreign fans may think, has ‘real’ soccer fans. By that, I mean that fans are extremely knowledgeable and passionate. They research and are aware of the news across the Football world. They were like that even before the explosion of the internet. The product must be of the best quality in order to be consumed in America. As an example, I remember that the MLS had something called ‘shout outs’ to determine a winner in their early years of the league. Most of the original teams played on American Football stadiums, and that just did not feel right . I remember this was upsetting for many fans in the states and around the world. This sort of underestimation by the MLS of its fanbase and market proved to be a huge mistake. The league has done a better job in understanding the needs and preferences of its fanbase. But the lack of that knowledge prevented the league to become popular in the early 2000’s. The MLS should continue researching and learning more about the American soccer fan.

Another example of how the league underestimated its market, was by introducing the so called ‘franchise’ player in the mid 90’s. This was an attempt to attract casual fans and mainstream fans with name recognition. What it actually did, was to devaluate the league. The competition become weak and that was reflected when MLS teams faced Mexican and Latin American clubs in international competition. Teams wasted most of its budget signing an old ‘washed up’ player from Europe or Latin America, that most often than not, contributed very little to the success of the team. Although, the franchise player status still exists, some teams are now looking into south America and the Mexican league to sign talent. They still pay big bucks for them, but at least this type of moves increases the level of competition around the league. If MLS officials decide to abandon the franchise player tag all together, that would be the one of the best moves the league could make. Teams will be able to sign multiple high level young players for the price of one. It will increase competition and perhaps eventually pay off, by selling them to Europe as many leagues like Mexico and Argentina do. They can potentially have a return for their investment. Fans will see that teams are really trying to win a championship and not to simply make a profit.

Finally, it is crucial to change the whole calendar. This perhaps is the biggest challenge the league faces. It is for many reasons. The television networks still do not trust that people will turn in to watch a soccer game over a baseball game or a basketball game per say. MLS is always given the worse deals and relegated to be on an obscure channel like a ESPN 4 or a CPAN type of sporting channel. In order to get more prime time, the league is forced to come up with a calendar that goes against what the rest of the world does. When most leagues in the world are deep into their championships in late January, the MLS is barely starting their pre-season games. By doing this, the MLS is able to get some prime time slots on channels like Univision and ESPN Deportes, but significantly lowering its competition. The MLS historically has blamed the cold weather in many US states for the late start of its championship. If that was the case, then Germany, Poland or Russia would start their football leagues until the end of March as well. The NFL would start its season in March and end in October. I suspect that by providing its fans a quality product, fans will follow. If TV networks see that stadiums are filling and fans are responding they will give the MLS the time slots it deserves. We are actually seeing some of that television time for new and popular teams such as the Atlanta United and the LAFC. MLS, please give fans the opportunity to see a champion being crown in the summer.

The league still has potential. I can make a bold prediction and say that in 10 to 15 years the MLS will surpass the NHL in popularity and perhaps challenge baseball for TV ratings. In order to do that, they have to provide its fans with a great product. No one expected that the MLS would be this big in 2020. They actually had bigger plans for it. In my estimation is still the football league of the future. However, they must treat fans with respect, follow my recommendations and as an added bonus, please stop bringing more expansion teams. In the United States there is a market for everything, that’s right, we just like things done right.

The future was unknown for the MLS in 1994 as it was for ‘El Diablo’ Etcheverry in the inaugural US 94′ game versus Germany in Chicago. He was given a red card in the first few minutes of that game and was unable to help his team advance to the second round. As a fun fact, It was one of the fastest red cards in World Cup history. If the MLS does not get his stuff together, fans and critics will give the league a red card as well. For now, I give the league a yellow card and a warning, it has survived longer than expected.