Sentimentality is the rumpled trump card of sportswriting. The games are actually won or lost on the basis of strategy, tactical adjustment and execution, but that’s as dry as a brand new cardboard box. Better to tell the story on the basis of the star player thinking about his sick son as he nailed the winning shot. It also sets up better—or at least more usable—quotes. It’s why during the Olympics we rarely see stories about the physics that go into the amazing feat being attempted, but we do hear that the competitor’s kid sister overcame a vicious case of acne to be in attendance.
The surprise to me this offseason is how sentiment has ruled the transaction wire. The offseason is usually a paradise for sports geeks because sentimentality goes on vacation and it’s all about performance and money, salary caps and windows of contention.
Not this year in the NBA. LeBron James’s return to Cleveland was draped in “I’m Coming Home” angle of the Ohioan returning to unfinished business. It is such an archetypal western story that I’m surprised no one photoshopped a cowboy hat onto Bron. I can give James a little bit of leeway since the real story isn’t particularly diplomatic. His brand would suffer enormously if he told the truth which is his buddy Dwyane Wade is in serious decline, and Pat Riley, the mastermind behind his title run with his former team, the Miami Heat somehow thinks that Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger are the solution to an aged and ineffective bench.
Then Carmelo Anthony turns down offers from the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers to stay with the New York Knicks for a near maximum deal of five years and 122 million dollars. He then put out a wordy statement with all kinds of loving words about the honor of being a Knick. The statement stopped just short of saying that he wished he could have been Willis Reed running out of the tunnel with a broken leg in 1970 to lead the Knicks to their first title. Again, it sugarcoats a less noble reality: 124 million was too much money to leave on the table. Due to the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, L.A and Chicago could only offer ‘Melo about 75% of what the Knicks did. What they did offer was a better chance of pursuing a title. But money is money.
Thank goodness, Lance Stephenson didn’t talk about how North Carolina is a cradle of basketball after leaving the Indiana Pacers to sign with the Charlotte Bobcats, er Hornets.
This week’s story is now about whether the Cleveland Cavaliers will trade their recent draft picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to Minnesota for all star forward Kevin Love. It’s been fun watching the press search for a sentimental angle when there isn’t one. LeBron signed a two year contract. That means the window of opportunity is already closing. Waiting for Wiggins and Bennett to develop isn’t luxury the Cavs have. They have gone from promising young team to a group that has to win now.
The good thing is that NBA GM’s don’t seem to give a damn about sentimentality. So far, most the moves this offseason have been pragmatic. I don’t understand what the Lakers want with Carlos Boozer, but maybe someone will explain it to me. Otherwise it’s been so logical that it’s strangled everything else in the NBA news cycle.