Monday, May 10, 2010

The LeBron-to-New York Myth

The myth that basketball superstar LeBron James will sign as a free agent with the New York Knicks picks up steam this week because the influential New York magazine is telling us in a cover story why it should happen.

Nice try, New York.

Particularly cute was the Photoshopped cover image of LeBron appearing to pull an orange-and-blue suitcase on wheels complete with the Knicks logo and an I Love New York button.

But LeBron, the NBA’s most dynamic talent, will not come to the Knicks because there is no compelling reason for him to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers.

First, the supporting players with whom LeBron runs in Cleveland (Mo Williams, Antwan Jamison, Shaquille O’Neal, Anderson Varejao, Delonte West et al.) are far better than his Knicks’ supporting cast would be.

And that would be true even if the Knicks could convince free agent power forward Chris Bosh to leave the Toronto Raptors and join LeBron in New York.

Second, it is no longer necessary for a great athlete to play for a New York team to maximize his earning potential. This is not the late 1970s when Reggie Jackson’s baseball star ascended once he traded his Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles uniforms for Yankee pinstripes.

Nowadays, a great athlete in a team sport can play anywhere and rack in major endorsement dollars.

Just ask Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts.

I lived in Indianapolis in 2001 and '02. Even the locals call it "India-no-place" and "Naptown."

Sidney Crosby is the most marketable star in hockey. He’s not a New York Ranger or New York Islander or New Jersey Devil. Crosby works his on-ice magic in a Pittsburgh Penguins uniform.

While it is true that Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter earns more money in endorsements than any other baseball player — a reported $35 million a year — Jeter rakes in the big bucks because his team wins championships — four World Series rings in his first five full seasons — and his image is squeaky clean.

If LeBron stays in Cleveland and lead the Cavs to their first-ever NBA title, he’ll be well on his way to becoming the world’s second billionaire athlete (after Tiger Woods).

LeBron does not need NEW YORK across his chest to become filthy rich. He already is.

If LeBron, a native of Akron, Ohio, were to leave the Buckeye state for New York, his image would change overnight, and not for the better.

No one perceives LeBron as greedy today. But many would consider him greedy if he leaves a place where he is revered to become the latest bold-faced name in New York City.

And athletes who are perceived as greedy and opportunistic do not rank high on the marketability scale.

At least New York put LeBron on its cover in a Cavaliers jersey, not in a Knicks jersey with No. 6 — the number he says he’ll switch to next season because he wants No. 23 to be retired in honor of Michael Jordan. (A New York Post article last week put LeBron in a No. 6 Knicks home jersey.)

By the way, Jordan did not need to play for the Knicks to validate his greatness.

Neither does LeBron.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tiger Woods: The REAL Hank Haney Project

The comedian Dave Chappelle does a riff in which he asserts that you know a man is famous when if someone performs fellatio on him, then that person becomes famous.

Chappelle used former White House intern Monica Lewinsky as a case in point.

I was reminded of Chappelle’s riff when a parade of women appeared in articles in tabloids and magazines and on TV gossip shows after alleging to have had sexual relations with golf legend Tiger Woods.

No one would care about any of those women were it not for the famous man to whom they so desperately cling.

Surely, Tiger would fire those women if he could, the same way he fired his former caddie, Fluff Cowan, for extreme publicity-seeking away from the golf course.

Perhaps Tiger will also fire his swing coach, Hank Haney — not only for publicity-seeking, but also for poor results.

Were it not for his association with Tiger, Haney would not have had his own so-called reality show on The Golf Channel last year, "The Hank Haney Project: Charles Barkley."

Each week, on this prime-time program, Haney attempted to fix the massive hitch in the golf swing of Barkley, the basketball Hall of Famer. Whether or not Haney succeeded doesn’t matter. Barkley is merely a recreational player.

What matters is whether Haney can fix Tiger’s now-broken golf game, particularly his shockingly errant tee shots.

Even before Tiger withdrew from today’s final round of The Players Championship in Ponte Verde Beach, Florida, with what he believes is a bulging disc in his neck, his game bore no resemblance to the one that made him the sport’s dominant player.

Tiger was never a contender at this year’s TPC, one week after missing the cut at the Quail Hollow tournament in Charlotte.

And with 2010 Masters champion Phil Mickelson playing superior golf, Tiger’s hold on the world’s No. 1 ranking has become tenuous at best.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Butch Harmon, who coached Tiger during his most successful years on the pro tour, now coaches Mickelson.

Some golf analysts, including Johnny Miller of NBC and Brandel Chamblee of The Golf Channel, fault Tiger and Haney for changing the swing that made Tiger so great.

Tiger holds the driver differently, with his thumbs down instead of wrapped around the club, Chamblee argues.

Tiger’s follow through is not nearly as smooth as it used to be, asserts Miller, a former U.S. Open champion.

Miller also says Tiger should spend every night watching highlights of himself winning the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach by a record 15 strokes — paying strict attention to how he gripped the clubs and swung them — because that is the finest golf Miller has ever seen.

Of course, Tiger still suffers from the humiliation of being outed as a serial philanderer. But his golf game, especially his awe-inspiring tee shots, used to be above reproach.

Not anymore.

Tiger needs in his corner not a reality-show seeker, but a truly devoted coach who can resuscitate a limp golf game.