Remember when the “business of sports” was simple? Trade Gary Carter: I cry like a newborn. Trade Wayne Gretzky: I go into a catatonic state, have 3 simultaneous mini-strokes, and somehow dislocate four toes.
In the past, most trades in sports were mentioned on radio or TV, quickly discussed, and then dismissed. All the business aspects were handled “in-house”, and none of the dirty little details were divulged to the great unwashed.
The biggest trade occurring prior to mass multi-platform media was Babe Ruth being traded from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees on December 26th, 1919. We all know what happened to the BoSox since, and only recently does it seem that “Curse of the Bambino” has been lifted. But that trade happened in an era when news would take four days and 7 horses to go from East coast to West coast. The actual behind the scenes money dealing wasn’t known to the general public for a quite a while.
In my mind, sports business took a turn for the perverse on August 9th, 1988, when The Great One was moved, with Marty McSorley, Mike Krushelnyski to the L.A. Kings. I remember getting the phone call from Dad who told me Gretzky was being traded to LA. I had only been released from 4 months in the hospital, and really wasn’t feeling great. I told him to just stop joking around. “It’s not funny, and it would NEVER happen,” I said. Then he calmly told me to “turn on the TV.” so I did. I don’t recall if I just dropped the phone, swore, or passed out on my feet. All I know is, since that moment and so long as I live, everything is possible.
The Gretzky trade was different, and continues to be different in the way it involved bringing a brand new segment of North America’s population into becoming fans of the NHL. While there have been major trades in each of the four major sports since, none have had such a lasting impact on the SPORT itself. Teams have been brought into the “Sun-Belt” of the United States, and while several have suffered from poor management and attendance issues, we now see the powerhouse that has been developed in California hockey. Gretzky’s trade changed the paradigm of the sport, and the way people viewed it from afar. The NHL continues to have its opponents because of the useless goons, and meaningless violence, but all in all, the league has never been stronger from coast to coast, both in Canada AND in the United States.
This brings me to crux of this article. The seemingly ridiculous soap opera that occurs during EVERY SINGLE NBA off-season. Just as I naively followed the path of accepting that players played, coaches coach, and general managers generally manage, July 8th, 2010 happened. That was the evening that LeBron James destroyed Cleveland, and “took his talents to South Beach” to play for the Miami Heat, along with his buddies Dwyane wade, and Chris Bosh. I had just recently moved to New Brunswick and was in the midst of my chemotherapy treatment. Though I think we all knew what what “The Decision” was, I HAD to watch the show, just like a rubbernecker at a train wreck.
Since then, nothing is sacred, and everything/everybody is fair game to be traded. Recently it was reported the Milwaukee Bucks fired coach Larry Drew after agreeing to send two second-round draft picks to the Brooklyn Nets to secure the coaching rights to Jason Kidd. Trading coaches for DRAFT PICKS? That has to be the most disrespectful thing I’ve ever seen happen to a former great player in the NBA. One year removed from playing, Kidd took on coaching. Maybe he wasn’t quite ready yet, but ownership had provided him with a plethora of talent, and had no qualms about spending large sums of cash to improve. Russian multibillionaire Mikhail Prokhorov wanted to win immediately after moving from New Jersey, and thought having one of the Net’s greatest coaching, and the four arrivals of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson would do it. Not even the ubiquitous presence of Jay-Z could help them through the playoffs.
But this off-season has again been over-wrought with another “decision” that needs to be made by Lebron James. He opted out of the final year of his contract with the Miami Heat, as did the other two members of the NBA’s “big 3”. Everything now hinges on where the world’s best basketball player decides to go. It is now “The Decision Part 2 – The Decision to Force a whole bunch of other decisions.” Nobody moves until Lebron says “Yes” to a team. It is way past ridiculous, hovering near obscenity.
There have been daily reports of teams making deals and buying others out in order to free up “cap space”. Apparently that manoeuvre can mean only one thing: they’re looking to make a move on James. Heat owner MIckey Arinson must be having a heart attack every time his phone rings.
The NBA deadline has a lesser effect in Canada. Here, both the NHL trade deadline and Free Agent signing days have the same coverage as the pre-game show for the Super Bowl. They are six hour shows with very little action except the “insiders” typing away on their smartphones, trying to pry some nugget of information loose.
This is not to say that the NBA deadline is not being followed. With the growth of Toronto Raptor fans, and their success this year, many eyes are on the James choice. Some Toronto sports talk show hosts have intimated that the Raptors have “quietly” been working behind the scenes to woo LeBron. I am of the cynical mind that this is merely the workings of “the Roger’s sports machine” trying to get people to watch their shows, and read their press.
But now we sit and patiently wait. There are approximately 4 hours until trades and free-agent signings can become official. Oddly, if you can believe the last rounds of cuts, trades, and roster moves, it appears King James’ decision is leaning towards removing his talents from South Beach, and taking them home to Cleveland. Should that be the decision, it completes the ultimate soap opera circle/circus the sporting world has seen. The “prodigal son” would be welcomed back home, along with several other big name players. The main focus would be to bring the NBA title to those crying Cavalier fans in Cleveland. Yes, those same fans who burned him in effigy and were literally blowing up his jersey.
While we can’t be sure of everything, we can be sure the inevitable train wreck will have the full attention of the sports world. All the slimy, ugly, dirty, nasty, vitriol, and frivolity that were behind the move will be analyzed and dissected like the virus it has become. That decision is already made.