The two big stories this weekend boil down to a debate on aggression. When is aggressive too aggressive? When is deferral not aggressive enough?
On Saturday night, the Utah Jazz snapped Miami’s winning streak thanks to two dumb fouls and two missed free throws by Dwyane Wade, but the postgame chatter questioned the mettle of Miami’s other star. The Deseret News coverage ran under the title “LeBron James passes on chance to win game”. Never mind his 8-9 fourth quarter shooting, or his 35 points, or the level of difficulty on some of those big makes down the stretch, said basically everyone. Let’s focus on LeBron’s decision with the Heat trailing by one point to pass to a wide open Udonis Haslem for the final shot of the game. Let’s compare this to his bizarre and horrible skip pass with the All-Star game on the line.
With this weekend also came the news of the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program, which paid players for big hits and injured opposition, casualties including Kurt Warner and Brett Favre. Oh, the humanity! How could they? The NFL is just a bunch of neanderthals who don’t care about player safety!
Taking a step back from the emotions of both LeBron’s latest fourth quarter foible and the Saints hardly acting like their namesake, questions come to mind. Didn’t LeBron make the correct basketball play? Could his pass have been a vote of confidence for a struggling player who the team needs in order to succeed in the postseason? Moving on to New Orleans, the players, who, it should be noted, also received bonuses for interceptions, forced fumbles, and sacks, received extra money for big hits, and the league is about to bring the hammer down? Aren’t those players employed partly due to their ability to dole out said big hits? Shouldn’t we drop the high and mighty routine and understand that Gregg Williams gave bonuses for the plays that roust the casual fan from his seat?
Given time to clear my head from the Skip Bayless’s of the world, neither LeBron’s pass nor the Saints bounty program sit well. They just don’t pass the gut test. A world-class competitor like LeBron should relish any opportunity he has to prove his skeptics wrong. His immense talents have allowed him to coast, to believe he can forego the typical learning process of developing through failure and still enjoy ultimate success. Attempting to live blemish-free will only hurt him in the long run.
The same can be said for the NFL. Bud Light can tell you to designate a driver and the NFL can fine players for big hits and enact stricter concussion assessment protocol, but you’re still delivering an innately dangerous product. The bounty program only brought the emotions embedded in football’s core to the forefront, which is why the NFL will suspend, fine, and otherwise do its best to wave a giant, parental finger at the whole shebang.
Perhaps LeBron’s pass and the Saints bounties bring to light the fatal flaws of Mr. James and the NFL, respectively. Perhaps that is why they don’t pass the gut test.