Charles Barkley was right: The decline of sport as a noble endeavor

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

During the summer of 2010, as basketball fans waited for a really big free agent season to pan out, the Miami Heat re-signed their star Dwyane Wade, and in a moment of managerial genius, managed to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh – all three at discounts so they could afford to have two other starters and a bench and still be under the salary cap.

Here's how they were introduced.

Flashy and exciting, sure. There hadn't been a starting three like that since...well, since any team ever, I guess.

But it started with James – a lifelong Cleveland resident, who signed with the Cleveland team out of high school and bought a modest home in Cleveland, saying this: "I'm taking my talents to South Beach."

That's an actual quote.

Remember back in 1980s when parents slammed Charles Barkley for his I am not a role model ad? You know, because kids looked – and still look – up to sports stars as role models.

While I still find myself drawn to sport – I love watching a good contest in almost any sport – I've had a real hard time with the culture lately.

Also: Get off my lawn.

Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky.

But how can you like a guy with an attitude like James had (I understand why he signed elsewhere – he definitely had a raw deal in Cleveland, where he was expected to be a one-man team)? He held a prime-time press conference to announce his decision. That's when coaches found out, too. And the way he said it? Argh.

And the way the Heat introduced Wade, James and Bosh, as though they were guaranteeing a championship? In a few years, a lot of us are going to forget it was the Dallas Mavericks who won the 2011 NBA title. We'll just know it wasn't Miami.

Last night in baseball, there were four games played to determine the final two playoff spots. Three of those games ended in dramatic fashion. That's why I still love baseball, and why I still love sport.

You know what else happened in baseball yesterday? Jose Reyes came into what might have been his final game in a Mets uniform. He's been much-loved by fans, and I'm sure some of them came out to watch him compete for the National League batting title, which he was leading by three points coming into the game.

In the first inning, Reyes bunted for a single and promptly took himself out of the game, so as not to risk losing points off his batting average.

He won the batting crown, but probably disappointed a fair number of people by not playing the full game.

70 years ago, Ted Williams went into the final day of the season – one on which the Red Sox were scheduled to play two games – with a batting average of exactly .400, which is, to be sure, a milestone.

He could have sat out and finished the season secure in the knowledge that he hit .400, without risking his average. But if he was going to have a .400 average, he said he was going to have it for the whole season.

He had six hits in eight at-bats during the double-header, finishing the season with an average of .406 – the last time anyone finished a complete season with an average of .400 or higher.

One of those two is a role model, the other is squeaking by on minimal effort. (Not to take anything away from Reyes' talent, just his character.)

Early in the NFL season, we're talking about teams faking injuries to slow down a fast-moving offensive strategy. Want to know how to better defend against a fast offense? Get fitter.

Maybe it's the money, I don't know. But the culture of sports has changed a lot.

Get. Off. My. Lawn.

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