Friday, January 31, 2003
Updated: February 3, 9:07 AM ET
In the end, everyone gets about what they deserve
By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com
LeBron James bought his freedom from the profound burdens of high school basketball for $845 worth of throwback jerseys.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association got to play impartial bestower of justice. Hey, couldn't get him on the car, get him on the shirts.
The basketball team at St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School is down a win, has lost most of its chance to win a state title, and will be going back to standard-high-school-issue anonymity.
And John Lucas is still out in Cleveland.
God, don't you love a happy ending?
James, who had better damned well be Kobe Bryant II for all the energy devoted upon his hype, apparently accepted jerseys of Wes Unseld and Gale Sayers last Saturday, three days before he was cleared of any violation for accepting a contraband Hummer H2.
And while the James family is claiming to be hurt, outraged and preparing an appeal, the truth is nobody gets particularly harmed here because there is nobody to do the harming.
James? He has a new car. He has two new jerseys. All he has to do is wait for the NBA draft.
His family? Either by commission or by omission, they could not or would not stand in the way of the machine.
His school? They squeezed out a fair piece of money off his SVSM jersey, and will have to return a bunch more. They played with fire, and now it smells like burning shoes.
The NCAA? They weren't going to touch him anyway, and he was fine by that anyway.
The NBA? They were just waiting anyway.
All that happened here was that the school will have to win its postseason tournament without the one player who made it famous. James won't be playing in any high school all-star games. He's been living the NBA lifestyle, and now he doesn't even have to bother to make the pretense of being a prep.
The joke is over, citizens. There's nothing to see here.
Perhaps his high school teammates feel a bit betrayed, but they knew they were just renting him anyway. He was a good teammate, but the bling was way too much for anyone, kid or otherwise, to overcome.
Everyone else got what they either wanted or deserved, which may be why nobody feels terribly bothered by Friday's development.
Except maybe the people who thought James should have gotten more than two replica jerseys for his trouble.
It is an odd bit of trivia that in Ohio, an athlete may accept an award or present worth $100, but that there is no limit on the number of awards an athlete may accept.
Thus, James could have accepted one gift a day for a year and taken in enough stuff to pay for approximately 86 throwback jerseys. He could have gone from Sayers to Ed O'Bradovich, from Unseld to John Tresvant.
In other words, keep your notions of amateurism to yourself. James was a cash cow, found guilty of milking himself.
And fret not about how this will affect the college game. This is no college player, not by temperament and not by intention.
It may turn out that he will get to the NBA and discover that he could have done with some remedial work, the kind that can be done by a clever and open-minded college coach. But he wasn't a college player in his head, and as we all know from the scene in "Patton'' where George C. Scott shoots the two mules to clear the bridge, nobody with the power to say still goes where he or she doesn't want to go.
LeBron James was product, pure and simple. There was nothing na´ve or wide-eyed about him. He has been a pro in prep's clothing (well, most of the time) since he was a sophomore, only he could back up the advertising with the raves of pro scouts.
What is more, he seems to have a pretty good idea what is waiting for him, even if he doesn't yet have all the coping mechanisms he needs.
So this is nothing for him, or anyone around him. This isn't crime. But whatever it is, you can be sure there are no innocents here.
That is, unless you want to count Wes Unseld and Gale Sayers.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com