LOS ANGELES -- As the Lakers and Magic prepped for Game 1 of the NBA Finals,
Yes, rarely has a man been so conspicuous by his absence as the King was before, during and after Game 1 at the Staples Center. In the days leading up to the championship series, James had been torched for walking off the court without shaking hands after his Cavs had been eliminated by the Magic in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, and compounding it by blowing off the mandatory media session.
Then, before Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday, commissioner
If the Magic aren't able to recover in Game 2 and make this a series, chances are those storylines will continue. So with all this in mind, let's try to straighten out l'affaire James.
First, and most obviously, James was wrong to walk off the floor after the 103-90 loss to the Magic, and the press was absolutely justified in criticizing him for it. James' action was compared, predictably, to the Pistons' famed pre-buzzer walkoff after their four-game elimination against the Bulls in the 1991 East finals. But it was nothing like it. What the Pistons did was a petulant, pre-planned pout, one, incidentally, that their coach, the late
James, by contrast, had a bad moment. It shouldn't pass without notice, especially in a culture where sportsmanship is rapidly disappearing. And James compounded his error when he explained away his actions a day after the loss. "It's hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them," James said. "I'm a winner. It's not being a poor sport or anything like that." Well, yes it is. Being a poor sport is exactly what it is, and someone needs to talk to him about it, a responsibility that Stern, I suspect, has already assumed.
As for the fine, here's where I break ranks with the NBA, and probably many of my colleagues: I don't think athletes should be required to talk to the media and should not be fined for failing to do so, not in circumstances such as those surrounding the Game 6 loss. Missing scheduled interview sessions during All-Star weekend, which is what
Now, if a player continually obviates his responsibilities to deal with the media, particularly a star like LeBron, it becomes a problem for the franchise and perhaps for the NBA. Maybe some kind of scale should be in place, where a fine kicks in after, say, three such incidents.
But my dirty little secret is that if a guy doesn't want to talk to me, I don't want to talk to him. I don't want a guy dragged kicking and screaming to the postgame podium so he can spout a few disheartened nothings.
Now, onto the court. Bryant's performance should have absolutely no bearing on LeBron's MVP award. We run into this often: Player A wins the MVP over Player B, but Player B makes the Finals and plays well while Player A is home on the sofa, and critics say that Player B got screwed. No, he didn't. The MVP award is for the regular season, and in this season James deserved it.
However, I was surprised at how many times I heard during the season that LeBron, not Kobe, has become the league's best player. I don't buy that. I still think it's Bryant.
One third-quarter play capsulated Bryant's deadly big-game ability.
We often talk about great players needing to win the MVP to validate their career. But really great players also want that Finals MVP.
But as Kobe goes after that goal, let's cut James, a great player and a credit to the game who had a bad moment, some slack. Remember how badly you felt after a trip to the dentist?