Ah, dear reader, parting is such sweet sorrow. We’ve been through thick and thin together this year, but we stayed strong. From LaGarrette Blount decking that dude on Boise State who kind of deserved it to the Kansas Jayhawks’ epic dismantling of my Missouri Tigers and subsequent, equally epic loss to Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament, it’s been quite a ride. I’ve tried to be an engaging columnist, slipping in hipper references than a “Pitchfork” review and talking about teams in states that you’re from. My only hope for this column is that it has at least provoked an engaging discussion about sports for you and your friends, probably while you’re all drunk. But that’s OK—I know you still mean it.
Some people think sports are part of a solipsistic, appearance-obsessed popular culture that interpolates the American people with the dominant discourses of capitalism, patriarchy and heteronormativity, and through distraction precludes consciousness of such issues. But to such effete quacks I say, “Huh?”
Sports distract us from the drudgery of daily life not as some terrible opiate of the masses but rather as an enjoyable diversion and exploration of the human potential. For that, they should be appreciated. To that effect, I’ve tried to share my enjoyment of sports with you through this column, and I’ve been very flattered to hear some fans’ (tepid, sporadic) responses to my work. To echo Kunal’s sentiment from last week, yes, our columns have been great. Maybe not great like Tim Arner, but at least like Tim Hederman. I did it for you, the little people. But after you brought me so close to your bosom, Grinnell, we must part. I hope the following sports analysis will help with what I’m sure must be a very difficult time. Without further ado, here are two possible off-season farewells that might be even more painful than this one. Don’t ever let go, Jack.
Good Night, Cleveland!
One caveat before I begin this section: I have to turn in my column before the Cavs-Celtics game on Thursday night, so I don’t know the outcome of game six, or, if there is one, game seven. If Cleveland improbably wins both games against a deeper, more balanced, more experienced Celtics team, I still think they’ll lose to the Orlando Magic. If they somehow miraculously overcome Dwight Howard and Vince Carter, they’ll almost definitely lose to the Lakers in the finals. But if hell freezes over and Katy Perry is the hottest woman on the planet/the Cavaliers win it all, King James might just stay in the Rust Belt to build a dynasty.
Unless the Cavaliers win the NBA Championship this year, and maybe even if they do, I think LeBron James is done in Cleveland. I’m sorry for Clevelanders like my main man Thomas Neil, but I can’t see LeBron re-signing with the Cavaliers when he becomes a free agent this summer. The Cavs don’t have the cap space to significantly add to or alter their current line-up, and Shaq and Antawn Jamison will be another year older and slower. LeBron needs an elite supporting cast around him to win a championship, just like the other great players did. Jordan had Scottie Pippen and later Dennis Rodman; Magic had Kareem Abdul-Jabar and James Worthy; Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parish; Kobe has Pau Gasol and now Andrew Bynum, too. LeBron is in the company of those star players, but Mo “Larry Hughes” Williams and company aren’t on the level of the best supporting guys. There is just one team that can give James the maximum salary he will demand and aggregate the right complementing players to compete for a championship almost immediately—the New York Knicks.
James would give himself a better shot at the title than he has in Cleveland by going to The Big Apple. The Knicks are in a unique position for the Summer of LeBron because they have enough salary cap room to pay two max free agents. This means they could potentially add LeBron and Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson or Dwayne Wade and re-sign David Lee. Count on G Toney Douglas and F Danilo Gallinari developing further, and you’ve got a contender for years to come. With such a talented young core and Mike D’Antoni’s high-flying offense, the Knicks would quickly ascend to the top of the Eastern Conference. I still think Kobe’s Lakers would crush that Knicks team in the 2011 NBA Finals, but probably not in 2012. At that point, the LeBron-led Knicks will have the opportunity to create a dynasty nearly as enduring as Dr. Awkward, my Spring Championship-winning Pub Quiz team.
Big XII, We Hardly Knew Ye
The one topic receiving as much baseless conjecture and speculation as LeBron’s next move (see above) recently has been possible NCAA conference expansion. Reports surfaced Monday that the Big Ten had extended offers to Missouri, Nebraska, Rutgers and Notre Dame to join the conference. All the parties involved quickly issued denials that any offers had been made, but the incident and the responses from other conferences revealed the fragility of the current conference structure. If the Big Ten expands, it appears that the Big 12 is posed to unite with the Pac-10 in some fashion as a response to the threat of a Super Big Ten, possibly including a satellite/cable network to compete with the lucrative Big Ten Network. The Big East and ACC have said they will not be proactive about conference expansion, so it’s all up to who, if anyone, the Big Ten invites.
I believe the report from Monday, even if erroneous, names the most likely candidates of Big Ten expansion. Missouri and Nebraska both get the short end of the stick in the Big 12’s revenue-sharing scheme and have a financial interest in joining the Big Ten. Rutgers has been trying to push its football program into the country’s elite, and a jump to the Big Ten would help in that regard and give its basketball program the fighting chance it is denied in the cutthroat Big East. Notre Dame really doesn’t have an incentive to join the Big Ten except to arguably provide better competition for non-revenue sports, which everybody knows Notre Dame doesn’t care about anyway. Independence and a separate TV deal with NBC give the Irish all the money they need and more, so the only way I can see the Big Ten luring them is by first getting Rutgers. This would mean the end of Big East football and thus probably the conference as a whole, which would force Notre Dame’s hand and would probably result in the Irish joining the Big Ten, too. At that point the league would have 13 teams, so I imagine they would only want to add one more to prevent the continued problem of scheduling an odd number of teams. At that juncture, I would think Missouri would get the nod over Nebraska. Missouri has a larger population than Nebraska and thus more TV viewers and is a better fit geographically. Maybe then the Big 12 could partner with the Pac-10 to somehow start including Boise State, Utah, BYU, in football and New Mexico and Gonzaga in basketball in a Western Super Conference. Naturally at that point the ACC, SEC and Big East will probably all start poaching each other to jockey for position in the new conference world order. Time will tell how this plays out, but maybe Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe will understand what I’m going through right now. H.A.G.S., everybody.