Friday, May 23, 2003

Why LeBron James Matters To Baseball Fans, or Why We Should Fear Nike

Caught most of the Jersey-Detroit basketball game last night, mostly because I held 20 dollars of my Dad's friends Bob's 200 dollar bet on Detroit, but also because the Pistons are somewhat interesting to me. They have Chauncey Billups, who I cheered for in the Fleet Center as the Celtics made him the # 3 pick in the draft the last time I cared about the lottery, and Chucky Atkins, who was the star point guard at USF when I lived down the street in Tampa. It was during this game that I learned about LeBron James' 90 million dollar deal with Nike.

I believe that The New York Times ran a story recently stating that the African-American representation in MLB is down to 10%(although I can't find it), but it doesn't take a study to figure out that your favorite major league team doesn't have many African Americans on it. Basketball is King in urban America, and probably has the highest level of participation of any sport in the country, but it ain't the NBA that can take down a huge MLB talent source. It's the shoes, man. Gotta be the shoes.

James will make 4 million dollars from the NBA, certainly a great lottery ticket to have, but the Nike deal is Powerball. James today is the hero of every high school and middle school big time athlete in the country, bigger than not only Carmelo Anthony, who is barely older than him and has already won an MVP award from the Final Four, but also Michael Jordan, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Brett Favre, Lennox Lewis, and anyone else you can think of. This morning, before, during, and after class, all of the kids who have already met Nike officials, been invited to a Nike camp, or know someone who has, want to be like LeBron.

For fifty years MLB had every African American kid playing baseball and wasted it, then for 30 years African Americans had an enormous impact on the game, and for a while their numbers have been dwindling. There has been an enormous increase in the number of Hispanic players in the last twenty years, from many different countries, and now there is a growing Asian population of players. What is the future for American baseball today because of this? Well, it will survive, maybe even thrive, but something will be lost. Somewhere there is a little Willie Mays, a tiny Rickey Henderson, who is making a different choice.

Let's play time travel with Dave Winfield. Big Dave made his MLB debut on June 19, 1973. Let's make his circumstances the same, except put him in thirty years later, June 19, 2003. He is a Gopher at the University of Minnesota, and he is the first and only person to be drafted in three sports, by the baseball Padres, basketball Hawks and Stars, and football Vikings, in his home state of Minnesota. He is being offered good money to join the Padres, maybe a million, but he's just seen LeBron's contract. What does he do?

Kind of sad, really.

Milton Bradley's streak ended last night in the on deck circle during the bottom of the eleventh inning, as the Indians went down in order. Oh well.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home