Over the five Thursday’s of December Riding the Pine will take a look back at the year that was 2010, revealing each week the best of a different category. Last week was male athlete of the year, this week I look at the worst of 2010.
In every story there is a protagonist and antagonist, the hero and the villain, sinner and saint.
2010 had its fair share of scoundrels, but there is one who was head and shoulders above them all — my decision was a slam dunk.
LeBron James represented all that was wrong with professional sports in this calendar year.
He held his team ransom, quit on them, and then played the league like a fiddle as he colluded with his friends, in the process trashing his own legacy.
The King was far from alone in this respect — he was certainly given a chase by the likes of Tiger Woods, whose misdeeds off the course led to his downfall on it.
Brett Favre finally hit a wall and, in the process of taking another $20-million out of the pockets of the Minnesota Vikings and his sexting transgressions, has rolled to an embarrassing a 5-9 record this season.
Ilya Kovalchuk and the Devils went off the deep end in a $100-million contract and have since floundered horribly, or even the Washington Redskins’ $100-million man Albert Haynesworth, who has become a lazy malcontent in just the second year of his mega deal.
But as just about everything else has been since he walked into the NBA seven years ago, this is all about LeBron.
What he did was about the lowest thing ever done by an athlete to a city that worshipped at his altar.
Sure there have been players that have signed mega-watt deals one year only to demand a trade the next. There have been homegrown players that couldn’t wait to leave the city that raised them with the first sniff of free agency.
But never before has an athlete with the star power of LeBron James gone on national television and embarrassed his hometown and run it down as he jumped ship.
It was sleazy. It was selfish. It was ignorant. It was classless. All that was missing was the sex scandal.
But it wasn’t just his final decision that helped James earn this title this year — the only title he did manage to take.
In the process he told the city of Cleveland that they were never going to win a championship, even with him — the anointed one — running the show.
And run the show he did.
In attempt to keep him happy, the Cavaliers effectively mortgaged their immediate future to surround him with stars like Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison and support players like Zydrunsas Ilgauskas, Delonte West, Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker.
Every move made was reportedly done at James’ urging and approval.
In the end it wasn’t good enough, and apparently never would be. He mailed in his playoff performance, and the Cavs made an early exit, ending the reign of King James.
What happened next left the rest of the NBA feeling slimy and fans every where outside of South Beach enraged.
Never before had three players with the status of James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh collude like they did, effectively hijacking the free agent period until it’s final week as the rest of the association tried to figure out what was going on so they could react accordingly.
In the process, James gave up all hope of carrying the mantle of best ever.
The best player in the game doesn’t go join some other star’s team in search of a title because he couldn’t hack it on his own.
They stick it out and make an unwinnable situation winnable.
When Michael Jordan first arrived in Chicago, the Bulls were historically one of the worst franchises in the game and have been since he left. But he turned them into a dynasty while he was there. Sure he had a strong supporting cast, but he was the centrepiece. There were also only two players that remained on the roster between his first championship and at the end of his second three-peat — Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
He made it work with everyone and anyone.
James couldn’t, or maybe he just refused to.
What he did do though was prove he was anything but a King.
He was a scared quitter.