- LZ Granderson, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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About two years ago, my then 10-year-old son was playing in a soccer game and collided with another player as the two were chasing down the ball. The one kid fell, my son was still upright, the ball rested between the two and there was no whistle. With a clear path to the goal, it was an easy scoring opportunity, but instead my kid asked the other kid if he was OK, then extended his hand out to help him up.
All of the other parents on the sideline complimented me for raising such a good sport. I, on the other hand, was wondering what the hell my kid was doing. And as soon as his opponent was up, he immediately went after the ball and took off down the other end. They didn't score, and we still won the game, but more importantly, my son learned a crucial lesson: competition isn't always nice.
I never saw him do anything remotely close to that ever again.
For the past couple of days I have listened to colleagues, analysts and fans get all over LeBron James for not shaking hands and speaking to the media following his Game 6 loss in Orlando.
He's been called a sore loser.
A bad leader.
Well, call me a contrarian because I don't have a problem with the way LeBron handled the situation. In fact, I thought it was rather intelligent given the circumstances.
How many times have we seen quotes taken immediately after a tough loss, blown up and spiral into a greater controversy because the person talking was angry? Sure, that might be the way the athlete feels or maybe he hasn't had an opportunity to fully process how he feels yet and so he just begins to spew venom out of his frustration -- venom that becomes plotlines in the offseason and into the next.
Dwight Howard and the Magic hardly looked disappointed that LeBron didn't stick around after the horn. Confetti was falling, fans were cheering and the Orlando players were celebrating. Sure, it would've been a nice Kodak moment to see the two superstars embrace afterward, but you know what, if it ain't real, it ain't real. A ritual of insincere gestures being sold as good sportsmanship is yet one more step in the march toward mediocrity -- like telling young players, "Good job," when actually they didn't do a very good job at all.
After his fourth-round loss at the French Open on Monday, Andy Roddick barely touched Gael Monfils' hand before retreating to his chair to gather his things and head to the locker room. Monfils had done a number of things during the match to irritate Roddick, and so unless he said, "Go to hell," whatever A-Rod said to Monfils at the net could not have been too sincere.
At least not in that moment.
That's like the un-apology apology public figures are famous for giving when they're more sorry they got caught than they are for the action that got them in trouble.
If this was a real issue for NBA commissioner David Stern, he would not be responding three days later. His reponse on "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" that it's "fair to say" that he's upset with LeBron comes across as more public posturing than concern.
You want to know what's poor sportsmanship?
Brett Favre cutting off all communication with his mentee and supposed friend Aaron Rogers after being traded to the Jets. Or Shaq freestyling about Kobe's Finals loss -- more than four years after being traded from L.A.
That's poor sportsmanship.
Taking a day to calm down and gather your thoughts, that's a sign of maturity.
And so I'm also glad that LeBron didn't apologize for walking off the way that he did, but rather gave us an honest look into what being competitive means to him. After a day to cool off, he said his piece. That to me is much better than ripping teammates he may have to play with or a coach he may have to play under next season. I always tend to believe that teams function better when you keep unrest in the family. As soon as players start airing dirty laundry, it's only a matter of time before an implosion. As a journalist who has been around for a little bit, I can tell you it's difficult to get inside the inner circle of the San Antonio Spurs. And I believe that is a big reason why they have been the most consistent franchise in not only the NBA but all of sports for the past decade. It's a no drama zone. You catch an irate LeBron James talking after a series in which he literally had to carry his teammates in the fourth quarter each game, then you're likely to get him saying some things that could interrupt the chemistry that got them to 66 wins. He can tell Anderson Varejao to get a jump shot in private. He can tell Danny Ferry, "Get me some more help or I'm out of here in 2010," in private. It may not work for good TV -- and it makes my and other sports columnists' jobs more difficult -- but it makes for a better team environment, which should be his primary focus.
Plus, in 2007, when LeBron was spanked by the Spurs, he sought out Tim Duncan to congratulate him afterward. Sure, LeBron was under more pressure to perform this year, but nonetheless this debunks the notion that he's just a sore loser.
Besides, I tend to think good sportsmanship isn't just about what you do in the heat of battle but what you premeditate and what you do afterward. I'm sure LeBron wasn't thinking, "I'm going to storm off the court if we lose," and he e-mailed Howard later that night and met with the press the day after. As he said, he's a competitor and like him, I believe competition isn't always nice.
And nor should it be.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Competition isn't nice, so no one should be shocked that LeBron James blew off the Magic.