Hammer: Ahmadinejad's hard truths



the rest of the world was avidly following one of the best World Cups in years,

the American sports world was focused on LeBron James, one of the most

overrated basketball players in years


he remain in Cleveland? Would he move to Miami? Would he sign with the Bulls?

Would he accidentally fill out a contest entry form at a Simon Mall and end up

under contract to the Pacers? The media was full of talk about this all week



I was watching the World Cup. The winning-ugly strategy of the Netherlands

overcoming the grace of Brazil; the Germans struggle against Spain; the sound

of the vuvuzelas; that was my passion.


I couldn't help but pay at least passing attention to the LeBron saga, which to

me represents the worst aspects of American sports. Certainly there is greed,

narcissism and self-aggrandizing in soccer and other world sports.


only in America is avarice and shameless self-interest celebrated and

commercialized to such an extent. James' move to Miami had nothing to do with a

principled change of scenery or even an opportunity to win a championship



was all about LeBron's ego and his desire to stay at the center of attention

despite having lost every big game he's ever faced in his career. It was about

endorsements, being the number one story on SportsCenter and, of course, money.


crazy as Ron Artest is, he has more championship rings than LeBron. So does

Rasheed Wallace, Tim Duncan and countless other players. James took a mediocre

Cleveland team to the brink of success -- and then choked, over and over again,

all throughout his career.


now we're supposed to praise him because he's moving to a bigger media market

and a better team? No thanks.


Miller never won any championships, either. But he displayed integrity and

class by sticking with the Indiana Pacers even after the Knicks offered him more

money. Indiana was good to him and he reciprocated that affection by bringing

the state more basketball excitement than it had seen in decades.


NBA's best days are behind it, not ahead of it. Since the day Michael Jordan

retired, it's been nothing but declining ratings and decreased public interest

in pro basketball. No amount of promotion or marketing can undo the league's

reputation for selfishness among its players and unbridled greed among its

teams' owners.


in the NBA seems to be defined more by how many mansions and luxury cars its

top players have than by teamwork and victories. That doesn't augur well for

the game's future.


NASCAR increased its popularity in the 1990s, it was because its top performers

went out of their way to be as down-to-earth and approachable as possible,

signing autographs for hours and seeming like average guys.


whole LeBron saga may be a tipping point of sorts. It may have been the

beginning of the end of the celebration of excess in American sports. Our major

sports long ago priced the average person out of buying tickets and may well

alienate them from following teams on TV as well.


and to a lesser extent, NFL football, have ceased to be team sports in a

literal sense. They've become one or two superstars surrounded by anonymous

role players, playing in billion-dollar arenas where the best tickets cost

thousands of dollars.


contrast, high school basketball and football teams operate largely with strict

concepts of teamwork and sportsmanship -- and the games are played in our local

communities. They dominated our collective attention until the advent of

television in the 1950s. I could see them making a comeback.


brings me back to European soccer. The World Cup showed the planet that

teamwork and selflessness are virtues to be rewarded. France, the one team

filled with ball-hogging superstars with bad attitudes, left the tournament in

disgrace, having been beaten by lesser opponents who happened to have bigger



throughout Europe, even as the largest and most successful soccer teams fill

their arenas, smaller towns with loyal fans still thrive. England alone has

four major leagues; Germany, France and Spain two.


teams like Manchester United and Barcelona compete at the same time as tiny

squads such as Scunthorpe and Tenerife. The concept of sporting events as

sources of local, not national, pride has not died there.

So I hope

LeBron and his mercenary teammates fall flat on their faces. More than that, I

hope people tune out and stop caring. It might produce a shock to the system

and bring a much-desired end to the era of destructive egotism in American

sports, something which would only benefit the rest of us.