Monday, June 1, 2009

Why Are We Even Arguing?

After the Cleveland Cavaliers' loss to the Orlando Magic in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James walked off the court without congratulating any of the Magic players or coaching staff on their victory. There is now a debate raging in the sports world as to whether King James committed an athletic faux pas.

That there is even a debate speaks volumes about the current level of professional sports. This is one of the very first things we teach kids when they start to compete - you always, always, always shake your opponent's hand after the game, win, lose, or draw. (Of course, if your opponent plays dirty or disrespects you during the course of the game, then all bets are off, but that wasn't the case here.)

If this had happened at the end of any golf tournament, the golfer who shunned his opponent after the final round would be universally condemned, no ifs, ands, or buts. Yet another reason why golf is my favorite sport.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that I'm hating on LeBron. He's a gifted athlete, and when all is said and done he'll be known as one of the best basketball players in history. But even more importantly he's a nice guy, who usually brings a lot of class to a sport where class is in short supply. His emotions got the better of him in this case, and I can certainly understand that. What bothers me is the fact that there's even a debate about this. He should have shaken his opponents' hands after the game, end of story. And everybody knows it. Or at least I hope they do.


seanag said...

It's ridiculous that I even try to comment on your sports pieces, Brian, but fools rush in, etc.

Somehow this reminds me of this whole change over in tennis that happened in my youth, when rude tennis players who lost their tempers became, for lack of a better way of describing it, sexy. This came out of what had earlier been a very etiquette ridden sport.

I think you're right, that his emotions probably got the better of him. But it is probably a sign of the times that there wasn't an ethic firmly in place to show him how to rise above them, even when he didn't feel like it. Manners are in some sense conditioning.

It makes me wonder about the whole history of 'sportsmanship', whether it goes very far back, or whether it is in some sense a passing fashion.

Nathanael Green said...


I agree. Sports used to be one of the first places kids learned about respect and self discipline.

Sadly, this basic respect for other people seems to be missing not just in sports, but a lot of other places, too.

So I say, yes, walking off the court like that is disgraceful. Like it or not, pro athletes are role models and I'd like to see future generations learn to have some restraint and consideration for others.

Brian O'Rourke said...


You raise an interesting question, about how far back "sportsmanship" goes. I sincerely hope it isn't a passing fashion, but current events seem to point in that direction. It's a shame really.

And I know a lot of people bash golf for its purportedly silly and antiquated rules and etiquette, but really, that's one of the things that makes the game so special. You never cheer against your opponent, you always congratulate them when they hit a good shot, and you usually end up in the bar with them after the round throwing back a pint or two.

Brian O'Rourke said...


Man, you and I sound old, don't we? :)

But you're right. Sports is where kids learn many of their valuable life lessons at an early age, and it's important for pro athletes to do the right thing, being the role models they are.

Like I said though, LeBron is usually a real class act, so this is more an aberration than the norm for him.

Nathanael Green said...

Don't forget about rugby. One of the most physically brutal sports, but it's so infused with respect it's unbelievable. On the field, players always treat the refs with the utmost respect, even when politely disagreeing with calls.

And off the field, the opposing teams always socialize for what usually ends up being quite a bit more than a few pints.

And yes, we sound old.

Brian O'Rourke said...

I've heard nothing but good things about rugby and would love to try it out. Though it's probably not the best sport to take up when you're 30.

Phil Stiefel said...

Now I hate to be the one supporting Mr. James and I definately do not support his lack of sportsmanship, but it does go back to his upbringing.

Unfortunately here at the pizza shop I do get a lot of down time and all I do is watch First Take, PTI, Around the Horn and all the other sports debate shows. I knew as soon as he didnt shake hands that was all I was going to here about all day Monday and it was.

The thing I have to say about his upbringing though is becuase a one Mr. Skip Bayless (one of my favorite sports debaters) pointed out on First Take Monday morning that after he has been eliminated from the playoffs each year he has not once shook his opponents hand. So is he a sore looser, or is it just OK to him not to do it? Has he not been taught sportsmanship. Remember he was a pro player at 18 years old (hes only 24 now) and making more money than any of us will ever see combined in our lives. He was crowned King James by the age of 19. So it is unsportsman but is it his fault was he just taught improperly as a youth. I feel u definately have to look to his youth a bit.

Brian O'Rourke said...


It may be the case that he wasn't "taught" to shake hands in his youth. But I find that hard to believe. My learning consisted of my Dad saying to me one time, "Go shake the other team's hand," and that was all the learning I needed for the rest of my poor excuse for a basketball career.

Even if no family member was around to tell him this, he certainly had coaches his entire life who should have and would have told him.

Even if none of his coaches ever told him, he's no doubt seen his teammates and other players doing this after every game. Hell, they made us line up in high school after a game to shake hands. It was part of the game.

Even if he never before took notice of everyone else doing this after a game, he's now a man fully responsible for his own actions. Not shaking your opponents' hands is the ultimate sign of disrespect, and I just don't buy the excuse that it wasn't part of his upbringing. He's been around sports his entire life, so he should know better than that.

seanag said...

Of course the optimistic take on all this is that if all the sports shows were debating this all day, the idea of sportsmanlike conduct is still very strong in the community as a whole.

And no, sorry--you guys do not sound old.

Brian O'Rourke said...


On the one hand, you're right: it's a good sign that this is being debated, because that means there are people who still believe sportsmanship is an important thing. But on the other hand, it's frustrating because there are people on the other side of the debate, arguing that it wasn't a big deal or worse, that James didn't do anything wrong.

Of course you can argue I'm just trying to make a big deal out of it so I get more comments....

Phil Stiefel said...

You are doing a fab job getting comments!!!

I want to remind you I do not agree with what he did. I am the person that got cut from a sportsteam when I was young for not going with what the coach told me to do when I felt it was unsportsman. Our coach (little league) told us after a tough loss not to shake hands after the oposing team had made some unsportsman plays of their own. I felt that it was best still to shake hands and myself and one other player left the dugout and shook hands. We were both cut the next day.

It is wrong but certain people just are taught that it is OK and once something is imbedded in your mind from a young age and over and over again, you make yourself believe it is OK. Lebron does not even feel he did anything wrong. Because he has done the same thing he has been taught to do his whole life.

Brian O'Rourke said...


You're a good man, Charlie Brown.

But seriously, when are we teeing it up again? I promise to shake your hand after the round and over a pint.

seanag said...

Yes, I could argue that you were stirring things a little just to get more comments. And you could in turn suggest that this was just an entirely gratuitous reply.

But neither of us would ever think of doing that kind of thing, would we?

Brian O'Rourke said...


Never in a million years. And I owe you one.

seanag said...

Nope, you owe me nothing. But do please keep on posting...