STEINBRENNER OF CLEVELAND
It was 1973 when a young shipbuilding-magnate from Youngstown, Ohio would forever change the face of professional sports. George M. Steinbrenner failed in his attempt to buy his hometown Cleveland Indians. Would he succeed in the glitter of New York and become the next owner of the Yankees?
The glitz and glamour more suited his style. Not only did he snub his hometown, but he took three of the Indians most promising players with him. Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw joined a team that also boasted the first of a new trend in sports.
Free agents. Jim “Catfish” Hunter was the first baseball player to be declared a free agent. And his services went to the highest bidder. They all became World Champions.
The Yankees would win the coveted title seven total times along with 11 American League pennants in the Steinbrenner era. Some would argue they bought those titles. It matters not. Those trophies are on display in their showcase.
Love them. Hate them. But you can’t deny their success.
So it stymies me that the good people of Cleveland should be surprised that this trend continues.
Time here for full disclosure. This writer, a native Clevelander, now resides in South Florida. Now back to our regularly scheduled article.
Yet another hometown hero has turned his back on the City on the Lake to pursue the glitz and glamour. And for all the similarities, this storyline follows a totally different plot.
LeBron James left his house, family and friends behind to pursue every athlete’s dream. He wanted to win. Not a few games, not MVP awards, not scoring titles. He saw the NBA Champion’s ring his buddy Dwayne Wade wore. He wanted one of his own.
This was not a superstar chasing after the biggest contract. He took a pay cut to sign with the Miami Heat.
This wasn’t chasing the spotlight on a bigger stage. He chose to play at someone else’s house. D-Wade owns this stage, James and Chris Bosh will play a supporting role.
This is three good buddies taunting neighboring kids to come play in their ‘hood, knowing full well the ball is in their court.
No superstar egos at risk on this team. Every player took a cut in pay for the opportunity to chase a prize bigger than mere money. Even bigger than an NBA championship. We’re talking dynasty here, something Heat President Pat Riley knows a thing or two about.
Miami will never be considered a sports town. They couldn’t even fill the stadiums when the Marlins won the World Series. The Dolphins have enlisted celebrity “co-owners,” including Serena Williams, Jimmy Buffet and Jennifer Lopez, to raise interest in their sport.
South Florida is finally abuzz over a game. Sports talk is in the air in local clubs, on television and in the streets. For the first time since the Dolphins’ 1972 perfect season, people are actually turning to the sports section of the Miami Herald.
Does this mega-team spell trouble for the rest of the league? I don’t think so. Attendance will skyrocket in every arena when the Heat come to town. Opposing players will want to prove these guys can be beaten, raising the level of play across the league.
Bravo, Miami Heat. Not only have you cast your team in the role of favorites for next year’s NBA title, but for several years to come.
You’ve brought the game of basketball into the national spotlight just as the players collective bargaining agreement is about to expire.
You are doing for the game of basketball what George Steinbrenner did for baseball.
The aftermath will bring both good and bad. But one thing is for certain. It will sure be interesting.
Bring on the Heat!
And to the fans of my hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, football season is right around the corner.