Miami -- I was about 80 percent convinced yesterday that LeBron intended to play tonight here in South Beach. At shoot-around this morning the team said 50/50, which makes me 95 percent sure he'll be playing. Of course, I don't think he should because I think he'll probably tweak his toe again and be in danger of missing the weekend. A few games in midseason don't really matter and he knows that. But he just can't stand sitting, especially when a national television audience is watching. I know he plays Mr. Team in the media, but he's just as vain as anyone else. Yes, when it comes to stats and awards he is too, despite what he says.
The recent "Is LeBron playing or not" routine has refreshed my understanding about LeBron's demand. Last week a reader from Richmond, Va., sent me an e-mail telling me about how he had planned a special trip with his young son to Philadelphia to watch the Cavs play last Friday night. It was to be his son's first NBA game and they were going to see his favorite player and the father had really "broken the bank" to use his words, to buy tickets behind the Cavs' bench. He was consulting me on where he and his son could go in Philly's arena to get Cavs autographs. Then, the morning of the game, poof!, LeBron's out. When there's an injury issue, I get regular e-mails from people like wanting to know it if he'll play, both home and road.
It turned out to be a great game in Philly, LeBron or no, and I'd expect any basketball fan would've enjoyed it. But it was a reminder to me of just how many lives an athlete like LeBron can touch. Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting him on a plateau and comparing his influence to "that special teacher" or a solider "defending our freedom," but the truth is so many value watching LeBron as a special experience. I'm sure it is the same with other stars on other teams and other sports.
I've covered quite a lot of golf over the years, the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron and other pro events, and I've sensed the way a crowd reacts when Tiger Woods arrives on a tee box or a green. Seeing people's faces around the country and the world and hearing stories like the guy from Richmond, remind me that LeBron has that same sort of unexplainable impression when people experience watching him play.
That, right there, is what Nike and everyone else pays for. Ultimately, his legacy will be judged on championships and perhaps he'll never been in a league like Michael Jordan or Tiger. But as far as that ability to capture people's attention and affection, he's already reached that level. Sometimes I forget it.
--So this 7-foot-9 Korean, Sun Ming Ming, got signed by an ABA team. Last month as I got off a plane at LAX to cover the Cavs against the Clippers, I saw this dude walking in the airport. Talk about shocking. You wouldn't think it at such heights, but there's huge difference between standing next to him and next to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who I'm used to being around at 7-foot-3. I only wish I'd seen him farther down the terminal when he had to go through security, jeez he probably had to go through the metal detector on his knees.
--Interesting tidbit on TrueHoop (one of the best basketball blogs on the planet that is about to get way more high-profile) about Wes Wesley that involves some former Cavs and, believe it or not, Carmen Policy. Henry Abbott, who runs the site, has done lots of stuff on Worldwide Wes over the last year. He's also been written about on ESPN.com and in other places and right now GQ is working on a piece about him. As I delved into a long while back (old blog link alert, the actual story is gone), Wes is an interesting character because he's such a mystery. Since I did that story, I've gotten to know him a little bit and found him to be intelligent, connected, yet understandably guarded. He doesn't like media attention, which he's getting a great deal of these days. I tried to explain it to him once, telling him that everyone loves a sexy story about power brokers, backroom dealings, athletes, women and money. If nothing else, for the average fan he's fun to read about as the TrueHoop post illustrates.
--I haven't heard about the All-Star reserves yet. But there's no way I could fill out a ballot and leave Caron Butler or Joe Johnson off of it. Butler, a certified hard ass, is one of my favorite players in the league along with guys like Andres Nocioni, Raja Bell, and Kevin Martin to name a few. Johnson has become a franchise player in Atlanta, even though just about no one notices. I have a feeling one of the two of them is going to be left off.