Taken together, two very different sporting events this month crystallize the deep ambivalence many of us fans feel about the games we play and follow.
By far the more publicized of the two events was “The Decision,” as it was dramatically called by ESPN. Free-agent LeBron James, 25-year-old Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, was to announce on a live hour-long TV special what NBA team was to be honored by his presence. The buildup was so very suspenseful. Would he take $100 million from New York, Chicago, New Jersey or return to his home-team Cleveland? Ratings were good for the hour-long show, except perhaps for the millions of Americans out of work. LeBron chose to join fellow superstars Wade and Bosh, thereby creating a team for the ages, albeit one that has not won a single championship. The buildup, the announcement and the aftermath were a disgusting celebration of ego and arrogance. Whenever professional athletes say it’s not about the money, it is; whenever they say it’s about their family, it isn’t. It’s not sport, it’s entertainment. What happens off the court is as important as what happens on. Professional sports compete for our attention and dollars with Lady Gaga, “American Idol” and “Shrek.”
The second event took place on a sweltering Saturday evening at the high school stadium. The more-recently graduated Huskie soccer players took on the older ones in an alumni match and fundraiser celebration put together by the current coach Paul Wright. My two oldest sons played for the “old guys.” While the game was energetic for a while, it became clear that speed on the soccer pitch, like response time for playing “Jeopardy,” is the first thing to go. But who won and lost wasn’t important. I had a great time. I got to catch up with the coaches, parents and friends of my boys. It was wonderful to gauge the change in my son’s former teammates from teenagers to lawyers, salesmen, insurance brokers and pilots. Talking to them after the game it was clear that sports had been an important part of their lives, and had helped shape them into the fine men they are today. My granddaughter Lily enjoyed running around on the field after the game. I had the recognition that all those good times I had coaching and going to games was not over. Maybe Lily, if she worked hard, could some day be a Huskie.
At one time I would have given almost anything if my sons could have been professional athletes. However, after watching the self-indulgence of “The Decision,” and comparing it to what happened a couple of Saturday night’s ago at the stadium, I have begun to feel sorry for LeBron James. The true measure of a man is not his height, vertical leap or his endorsements, but rather the quality of his relationships with his parents, children and friends. Somehow I don’t see LeBron ever coaching his kids at the YMCA Bitty Basketball. Too bad for him.
John Hubbuch, an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976, is a retired lawyer. Hubbuch served on the District 97 school board and coached youth sports. He is the father of three and grandfather of one.