Obama's pitch to LeBron pulls at heartstrings of Cavaliers' fans
Bulls fan President Obama said LeBron James would be a good fit in Chicago
As a Cavaliers fan, it hurts to hear the President encouraging LeBron to leave
Cleveland fans have so much invested in LeBron, and him staying feels right
I got a letter once from a football fan in Baltimore who wanted me to know he hated -- HATED -- the fact that his city had stolen away the Cleveland Browns. He hated it because he remembered what it felt like to lose the Baltimore Colts. He hated it because he knew how much the Browns meant to Cleveland. He hated it because it was wrong, and he knew it was wrong, and if he could have somehow voted against it he would have voted against it.
Most of all, he wrote that he hated it -- and this is what separated this letter from some of the others -- because he knew in his heart that his hate was going to fade quickly and he was going to become a huge Baltimore Ravens fan anyway. He felt guilty about it, but such is life. The Ravens were in his town. He didn't put them there, but it was a fact. He loved pro football. He knew that sooner, rather than later, this stolen team was going to be in his heart, and he was going to forget all about how they came to Baltimore, and he was going to lose all concern for Cleveland, and he was going to go on with his life.
I loved that letter. It was one of the most honest I have ever received about anything. The guy knew his heart.
I bring that up today because, as you have probably heard, President Obama has decided that he wants to just keep on weighing in on LeBron James. He and his senior advisor David Axelrod decided that one day was plenty of time to wait after the Cavaliers lost in the playoffs to the suddenly invincible Boston Celtics. "[President Obama] doesn't want to tamper," Axelrod told ESPN. "But as a Chicago fan, the president thinks LeBron would look great in a Bulls uniform."
This apparently was not enough for the Hoopster in Chief. The President has now given an interview to TNT -- to run in full on Tuesday -- and in it he explained that while he doesn't want to meddle*, well, the Chicago Bulls have an awfully good young core of players, don't they?
Isn't it amazing how hard the President is working to not meddle in the affairs of an NBA basketball player?
He said: "I will say this: [Derrick] Rose, Joakim Noah, it's a pretty good core. You know, you could see LeBron fitting in pretty well there."
Yeah, ha ha, you sure could see it! And we all know it would be awfully tough to find a basketball team where LeBron James could fit in ...
Now, look, I don't want this to be at all about politics. At all. I try -- perhaps not always successfully -- to keep my own thoughts about politics away from this because I know even less about politics than I do about sports and because there's enough political mayhem going on everywhere else.
No, this is about sports -- an expansion on the Pozterisk I included in my column about LeBron in the magazine this week. On the one hand, it's kind of nice to have a president who is such a big sports fan. It was always kind of nice -- at least I always thought so -- to hear President Bush talking about baseball and President Clinton talking about college basketball and so on. President Nixon probably should not have declared the Texas-Arkansas winner national champs when Penn State was undefeated ... but, hey, he got excited.
Point is, President Obama clearly loves quite a few sports, knows a lot about them, can talk about them without resorting to those rather embarrassing "Sports is a lot like politics," statements that politicians often say. It's even kind of nice to have a president who is unafraid to be a partisan fan, refusing to allow politics and strategy to temper his Chicago fanhood. I wrote in the magazine that his LeBron statements probably lost him Ohio in 2012. I was joking. Maybe.
On the other hand, I would say the President's occasional appearances in the sports world generally have not come across well. The Chicago Olympics thing was, um, not too good. He picked the NCAA men's field without picking the women's field one year, creating a stir, and sparking him to fill out both brackets the next year. And, perhaps most emotionally, he upstaged Stan Musial at the All-Star Game last year by becoming the first president in more than 30 years to throw out the first pitch. That's not to say it was the President's fault or he did anything wrong. He was invited to go and he went. My point is it just didn't come off well, at least in my mind. That should have been Musial's night, his Ted Williams moment, and instead the Man's appearance felt like a sideshow.
All of which leads to the LeBron stuff. Yes, I'm sure these statements were said said in the spirit of fun. And I'm sure the President, as a heart-strong Bulls fan, would indeed love for LeBron to come play for the Bulls where he could join Derrick Rose and bring back a little bit of the Michael Jordan madness back to Chicago. And I'm also sure that he also would not mind for LeBron James himself to know that the President of the United States is watching. Hey, there have to be SOME perks for becoming President.
But, you know what? It really bothers me that he has now twice made public his hopes that LeBron James go to Chicago. It bothers me not because of politics, not because I think he should shut down his fanhood when he's president. It bothers me not because I blame him -- hey, he's the President of the United States AND a Chicago Bulls fan -- this is the chance of a lifetime!
It bothers me because I think these statements are lacking in a basic fan emotion. A few months ago, you will remember, it looked like Joe Mauer would become a free agent at the end of this year. Now, wouldn't EVERY TEAM love to have Joe Mauer as their catcher? I mean, what's not to love? He's a preposterously great hitter, a good enough catcher to have won multiple Gold Gloves and by all accounts one of the most modest and decent guys you could find in the game. Sure, if you were a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan or a Phillies fan or a Dodgers fan or a Cubs fan or any fan of a team with money, you might drool thinking about Joe Mauer catching for your team.
But ... it sure seemed to me most people hoped Mauer would stay in Minnesota anyway. I would hear from fans of all kinds including Yankees fans -- not always the most self-aware of fans -- who hoped he would stay in Minnesota. Why? Because it seemed right. He grew up in Minnesota, the Twins drafted him No. 1 overall to a chorus of jeers, he became a part of the Minnesota landscape. He has come to represent his team and his city. Sure, any fan would love to have him. But there's a part of us as fans, I think, that roots for the right thing to happen. And when Mauer stayed, it felt right. It was a nice moment in sports.
It was a lot like that with Ryan Howard, too. He's not from Philadelphia, and I thought the Phillies spent too much money -- but that larger point remains. Ryan Howard will be in Philadelphia for years to come. Athletes help define their cities. Howard's home run power is something those hard Philadelphia fans can admire and love.
So it goes with Albert Pujols. He should follow his heart, of course, but as a sports fan, I hope he stays in St. Louis. I think he fits that town, even if he has occasional spats with Tony La Russa. I hope Peyton Manning finishes his career in Indianapolis. I wouldn't want to see Derek Jeter at shortstop for anyone but the Yankees. Obviously, people move around, and we have come to accept that as sports fans, we even get a thrill out of it when it's our team reeling in the prize. You want to win. You don't care too much about the team that loses.
But there's still something about what feels right ... and I think the thing I find most grotesque about the LeBron madness that is swirling around is that nobody seems willing to stop and at least concede what feels right. Look, LeBron might leave Cleveland and he has every right to leave, every right to chase whatever dreams he has inside him. Fans want their teams to win, and fans have every right to hope LeBron chooses our team.
But can we at least concede he helped turn around a basketball franchise. He brought new levels of hope to a city that has not won a sports championship in 46 years. He brought a certain pride with him -- great athletes do that for their city.
I know people like to make fun of how Cleveland's fortunes rest on LeBron, and it's not true, Cleveland will go on with or without him. But there is something here: Cleveland fans have so much invested in LeBron James. Sports is not so much like real life; losses are nothing at all like real tragedy. But if LeBron James leaves Cleveland, yes, some other city will celebrate. But it will be heartache for a city that has had plenty of those.
A couple of years ago, there was a rumor that the Pittsburgh Penguins might move to Kansas City. It was more than a rumor -- Mario Lemieux among others was actively pursuing the possibility. I suspect it was more of a ploy than anything, but it was serious enough that there was some real dread in Pittsburgh ... and a bit of excitement in Kansas City. Nobody knows if Kansas City could support an NHL team, but having Sidney Crosby in town might have tipped the balance, might have made Kansas City "Hockey Town U.S.A. II," at least for a little while.
Anyway, I wrote a column saying I hoped it didn't happen. I hoped that the Penguins stayed in Pittsburgh where they had been for a long time, and where they belonged. I got a few angry emails from Kansas Citians who really wanted the Penguins. But most people generally agreed. It's like that letter I got about the Ravens. There is something beyond our sports fans greed, a feeling of right and wrong.
LeBron staying or going is not like a team staying or going, but it has many of the same emotions. And maybe it's not too much to ask the President of the United States to sense the emotions, to feel what's right. I think of that letter: I don't blame the guy in Baltimore for becoming a huge Ravens fan. And hey, if LeBron James goes to Chicago, celebrate all you want. Throw an all-night party in Lincoln's Bedroom. Have them shoot fireworks over the Washington Monument. Party like it's 1776.
But in the meantime, maybe you can think for a moment about how many emotions his hometown has invested in him, how much he means to a Great American City that has had to endure a lot, how great a story it would be if LeBron James could stay in town and bring a championship to a hometown after all these years.
In other words:
Dear Mr. President,
I say this with the deepest respect for you and the Office: Boo!