Most of us red-blooded Americans enjoyed a long weekend for the Fourth of July, but Bill Madden of the New York Daily News was hard at work on one of the dumbest, lamest columns I’ve ever read. You may have missed this piece of work as you barbecued or blew your arm off with a mortar, but I caught it.
This is a time of year where we’re supposed to celebrate those who made possible all of our cherished freedoms, but this column almost made me wish we were a little less free. It not only subtracted a few IQ points off of its readers, but it also shaved thinner the dividing line between Sports Nerd and Comic Book Geek.
Recently, I took Madden to task for some remarks he made on WFAN about George Steinbrenner, as he promoted his biography of The Boss. The Daily News article also involved Steinbrenner, but in the dorkiest way possible. In my last post about Madden, I just thought the longtime sportswriter was just being myopic and selective in his memories of the Yankees’ owner. Now I think Madden might be in love with him. Because in Madden’s world, through Steinbrenner, all things are possible.
Here’s the premise of his column, entitled “If Boss Ruled Knicks”: In the alternate universe where George Steinbrenner owns the Knicks, LeBron James would sign with them in a minute, because George Steinbrenner is magical and everything he touches turns to gold.
Why is Madden even contemplating such a fantasy world this weekend? Because as you all know, George Steinbrenner was born on the Fourth of July. You all know this because Steinbrenner himself would be more than happy to drill that fact into your head with all the trumped-up patriotism in which he wrapped his team over the years. (Not so much from his Watergate-related conviction, but then again, what’s more American than illegal campaign contributions?)
It’s not until you get 3/4 of the way through the column that Madden mentions a deal that almost went down in the late 1990s, in which the Yankees, Knicks, and Rangers would’ve been part of one huge Cablevision-owned conglomerate. That fact makes Madden’s fantasia at least plausible. But even if this deal had happened, do you think egos such as Steinbrenner’s and the Dolans’ could’ve coexisted long enough to allow The Boss to still be involved with the Knicks more than a decade later? Of course not. Within 6 months, somebody would’ve dropped out or been murdered.
Marvel Comics used to have a series called What If…?, where various hypotheticals of the Marvel Universe were explored. Madden has basically written that, in one of the largest newspapers in America, about two of the biggest figures in sports. It’s not journalism. It’s not even opinion. It’s fan fiction. If the Daily News is going to publish stuff like this, why don’t they just run short stories written by 15 year olds where Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Jack Skellington?
My last post about Madden had many swipes against Steinbrenner, or at least people’s suddenly selective memory regarding him. But the suck of this column rests squarely on Madden’s shoulders. He is so enamored of Steinbrenner’s Magic Powers that he completely ignores the economics and regulations of the NBA, which are very different from those in MLB.
Let’s read a few choice nuggets, shall we?
No doubt, Steinbrenner would not have waited for the opening day of NBA free agency to start making his impact on James, either. Since Cleveland is his hometown as well, Steinbrenner would’ve found sufficient reason to go out there early – and stay later – as he did with [Reggie] Jackson in Chicago, vowing to be the last owner there and the only one to leave with an agreement with Reggie. Once face-to-face with LeBron, Steinbrenner would ignore all the NBA free agency restrictions and get right into his persuasive pitch. You can just hear it now.
Except that Steinbrenner would have to wait for the opening day of NBA free agency because all NBA owners have to because THOSE ARE THE RULES. Do you think other NBA teams–who, in a sport with a salary cap, all have more or less equitable resources when it comes to signing players–would stand for any owner tampering with a free agent?
Steinbrenner was able to woo Reggie Jackson so early and so often back in 1976 because that was literally the first year of free agency in MLB, and there were no regulations to ignore yet. Most owners were still shitting their pants over the very idea of free agency. I give Steinbrenner credit for recognizing an opportunity where other owners only saw danger. But Reggie Jackson’s situation in 1976 is not analagous in any way to LeBron James’ in 2010.
Oh, and that part where Madden writes, “You can hear it now”, that means he’s going to pen an imaginary monologue in Steinbrenner’s voice. Seriously. A grown man is going to do this.
“I understand your feeling of allegiance to Cleveland, LeBron. I
started out here too. But look what New York did for me. You know what the song says – Frank’s song, not Jay-Z’s – which I’ll get to in a minute. ‘If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere’? Well, I’m proof positive of that. I was just another businessman shipbuilder in Cleveland, but when I came to New York after buying the Yankees and restored their greatness, not once but twice, I became one of the most recognizable people in the entire world. That’s the difference between winning in Cleveland or Chicago and winning in New York.
Holy Christ. Where to start?
Yes, Steinbrenner was “just another businessman shipbuilder” who was able to buy THE NEW YORK YANKEES. He bought them for less than $10 million, which seems criminal when you consider what they’re worth now, but that ain’t chump change these days, and it certainly wasn’t chump change in 1973. We’re not talking about Horatio Alger, and for all his bombast, I don’t think even Steinbrenner himself would claim that he came from “nothing”.
I also missed the part where LeBron James wasn’t already one of the most recognizable people in the entire world. Basketball is way more popular worldwide than baseball (hence the influx of players from around the globe in the last 20 years). LeBron James is exponentially more famous to more people on the planet than any baseball player, including anyone who plays for the Yankees. People in Beijing have no idea who Derek Jeter is, but they would recognize LeBron James in two seconds.
That’s the biggest thing that the “LeBron has to come to New York” crowd doesn’t get. This man is already so huge in so many ways that not even New York can help accentuate.
“Now I know Jay-Z is your pal and that Prokhorov has kind of adopted him as an adjunct to the Nets. But ask Jay-Z where he got ‘Empire State of Mind’ its biggest exposure at Yankee Stadium, before the first game of the World Series last year! The last time I looked, that was New York, not New Jersey. You come to the Knicks and Jay-Z will own the Garden. The both of you will.”
Maybe people in Madden’s demographic had not heard that Jay-Z song (or ever heard of Jay-Z) before the World Series last year. That performance might have made the song acceptable to people who are normally Scared of Rap, but by the time Jay-Z appeared during the World Series, “Empire State of Mind” was already his hugest hit in a long time. I don’t have the numbers in front of me to back this up. I just know it from being alive and not living in a cocoon in the year 2009.
“About that extra $30 million you can make by staying in Cleveland, LeBron [the difference between the home-town-advantage salary the Cavs can pay him and any other team can]. We’ll make sure you’ll make 10 times that in New York. There’s extensions, opt-outs I’m good at these things, just ask A-Rod. And there’s no limit to the endorsement deals we can get you in New York. Back in 1997, I did a marketing deal for the Yankees with Adidas for $100 million, unheard of money in those days. Really pissed Bud Selig and all the other owners off, but there was nothing they could do about it, even though they threatened to kick me out of baseball. You’re a Knick and you’ll be the biggest celebrity in New York, bigger than Jeter, even bigger than your pal, CC, although I would hope not size-wise.”
Again, this is insanely ignorant of the way the NBA works. You simply can not do the kind of back-door shenanigans Madden is referring to in that league. David Stern, for all his faults, is not the spineless jellyfish Bud Selig is when it comes to dealing with rogue owners (ask Mark Cuban).
Could LeBron make more money in marketing opportunities in New York than
Cleveland? Definitely. But from Nike alone, this man is worth a billion dollars. He is the face of Nike, which automatically makes him one of the richest people in all of sports. If some other company wants him to endorse something, Nike will double what they pay him and not bat any eye, just to keep LeBron their exclusive property.
The worst part of this article is that, as I read it, I kept getting mad at George Steinbrenner. What an arrogant prick! And then I remembered, Wait, George Steinbrenner hasn’t said any of these things! This is just Bill Madden’s alpha-male fantasy about how “the last lion of baseball” would boss around a young, cocky, brown athlete. (In case you forgot, Madden’s got a bit of a problem with brown people.)
At the end of the day, I have to think LeBron either stays in Cleveland or signs with a team that offers him an immediate chance to win. At the very least, he won’t sign with a team whose ownership is completely lost without a map (i.e., the Knicks).
Would that be different with Steinbrenner? Maybe, if he actually owned the team and wasn’t restricted in the same way every other NBA front office is. And it would be wonderful if the sky rained ice cream, too! Look for a Bill Madden column on that next week.