Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Death of the 'Bro Hug...

Tom Izzo recently held a press conference where he is congratulated for doing what he's supposed to do, which is stay at Michigan State University and honor the contract he signed instead of bolting for the pros.

For some reason I've yet to fathom his team trots onto the podium to stand behind him, each giving Izzo the obligatory 'Bro Hug as they pass. This to me signifies the death of this oft-overused and disingenuous display of manly, contrived solidarity. But that's another story.

The main thing is this-Tom Izzo is a great college coach, but even he knows his decision to stay at Michigan state has nothing to do with Lebron James. His style suits his work environment. At the pro level all that yelling and screaming goes in one ear and out the other. He can't intimidate grown men who have more money than he does. And his job is not to wind his players up and motivate them for that "big game". Big games don't mean anything in the NBA until you get to the playoffs.

Guys like him love screaming their heads off and getting intense. That works in college basketball, where every win or loss has immense pressure attached to it. Izzo will never get accustomed to how content most players are about phoning it in, hoping their natural talent will get them over the hump and not really showing much concern if it doesn't. Losing to Minnesota in a mid-January game is no big whoop for guys who immediately after leaving the floor are on their cell phones lining up their prostitute girlfriends for dinner and a night of extremely casual Caligula-esque type group sex.

In college, it's one thing to take a bunch of overachievers and mold them into a Final Four team. It's another to get pros to listen to you when you've never won anything on their level. Just look at how some of the most talented teams did in the NBA playoffs this year, with Denver and Atlanta being the most egregious examples of All-Star calibre teams just not giving enough of a fuck to even compete with dignity. A pro player doesn't give a shit about getting humiliated on the court. Their sense of pride revolves around fancy cars, nice clothes and the endless stream of hoochies at their beck and call 24 hours a day.

But it certainly didn't help that Lebron James wasn't going to commit to staying in Cleveland. If he leaves, what do they have left? They just fired their coach (who won over 60 games for the last two years) and the general manager isn't coming back. It is very difficult to put the pieces to a championship team together with the salary cap restrictions being what they are. Lebron has to know that. So firing everyone isn't going to do the trick.

Besides, the way James played during the playoffs against the Celtics it's clear that he doesn't have the stomach to be "The Man", regardless of all the hoopla surrounding his game. Not only did he play terribly, but he lacked the intestinal fortitude to put his team on his back and carry them past the second round for two ears running. These early playoff exits also illustrated the fact that Cleveland are a glorified expansion team without the talent to take on the likes of Boston or The Orlando Magic. Firing everyone isn't going to change the make-up of the team, which is average at best.

So Izzo trots out the usual 'It's about family" nonsense when the truth is at Cleveland he probably would have been fired after only two seasons. Then what? He couldn't go back to Michigan State-he would have to start all over at another college. He has a home right where he is, where he is revered and has job stability not on offer in the NBA. The college game is set up so that the coach is the big cheese, and no player is bigger than the program. In the NBA it's the other way around. A player can get the coach fired no problem because it's a players' league.

So why leave for Cleveland? Izzo made the right choice to stay where he is. But that press conference announcing his staying was a bit much. It became a mutual circle-jerk involving the athletic director, the players and the press. Next time Tom, don't act like you're doing anyone a favor by staying and honoring your current contract. It just looks smarmy, and it makes you look egotistical and small.

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