Quite the week in Los Angeles sports for righteous indignation.
It seems several pundits, administrators and so-called fans finally woke up to the fact that professional and college athletics are governed and motivated by dollars before all else. These are the same folks piously claiming sports should only be about comradery, loyalty, and hero worship.
At best a naïve mindset, also delusionary and hypocritical.
They want it both ways, great teams with the best players in the world, as long as the costs of landing and keeping such talent isn’t passed on through higher costs for tickets, pay-television and merchandise. This is also the set whining loudest when their teams come up short, screaming on Instagram and talk radio like petulant 10-year-olds.
When news of LeBron James’ almost $100 million, 2-year extension dropped, the armchair bloviators started blogging and babbling. Too much for an aging superstar, one who hits the injury blotter far too frequently and already makes almost $50 million a year. Not to mention, the team is already carrying too much aging talent between Lebron, AD and Westbrook. And many fear last season was only a preview of on-court struggles likely to continue.
All of that might be true but is only a part of the equational totality. The Lakers had no choice. The LBJ brand alone is worth several hundred million to the Buss family Trust, the Lakers television partners and season-ticket orders. Consider that the first time Lebron left the Cavs, the team’s value decreased by $1 billion. Is he a lightning rod? One who gets tagged for sometimes “checking out” when it suits him? He certainly is. He’s also something of an NBA opportunist, not a home-grown hero who spent his entire career in Los Angeles – like Kobe and Jerry West.
But he remains the most notable and popular player in the game, who name is constantly in the headlines, for one reason or another. LBJ the producer, social media icon, pitchman and yes, basketball player translates well beyond the game, no matter what the team does on the court. As long as he’s on the roster, the Lake Show will get serious national and world attention, always playing in prime time and on Christmas Day.
(By the way Clipper fans, any Kawhi Leonard sightings to report?)
More laughable than the Lebron contract outrage might be the California Regents and our own Governor feigning distress over UCLA joining USC in taking most of its programs to the Big 10, most notably football and basketball. Bruin Athletics were hemorrhaging money, due to several factors but maybe none more obvious than the lousy dividend returned on their Pac-12 network television contract.
Meanwhile, the Big-10 just finished overhauling its network television deal, a package that will now bring the conference more than a billion dollars a year. Millions of which will be earmarked for the schools themselves, including the Bruins and Trojans.
We must have missed the press-release last year when the Governor and the regents were ready to write UCLA a check addressing the University’s massive athletic shortfall, one which had school administrators seriously considering dumping several programs.
It is understandable that the demise of a storied conference like the Pac-12, which UCLA and USC had been part of for a century, is somewhat sad. Those of us who grew up on the Pac-8, then 10 and finally 12 can’t help but feel somewhat dismayed that the teams and institutions we learned to follow and emulate as children are now just as beholden and fallible as corporations publicly traded on Wall Street.
But at least, we still have the games. Those contests of actual strength and tangibility – when a true winner usually emerges.
Because when all the noise and prognosticating has diminished, all the spots have been sold, the synergy exploited and the merchandise distributed – the only thing that resonates is who wins, along with how and why.
The rest is – and always has been – about dollars. Stop preaching and pretending it isn’t and used to be “so-much better.” The best moments are ephemeral and hopefully make worthy memories, but nothing of value ever lasts as long as we might wish it would.
Cynicism aside, there is still a great deal to love and enjoy when it comes to sports. On that, we can all agree.