I can relate to LeBron James.

I’m old and white. I’m not worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I stink at basketball and nobody cares where I choose to ply my trade. But, here’s what I do have in common with James: When I was in my early twenties, I left my home in the Rust Belt and headed for Miami.

He left Akron. I left Pittsburgh.

It was late January when my two buddies and I piled in a car and headed South. It was cold, gray, with periods of snow, slush, salt and cinders.

The feeling I had when I got out of the car a day and a half later and saw palm trees and felt the warm breeze made the trip worthwhile. Whatever followed would be gravy.

We spent the first two weeks going to the beach every day.

We had arrived in paradise and couldn’t believe we had wasted the first quarter of our lives living in Hell.

Then we got jobs. It took about two weeks to realize that not everybody in Miami was on vacation. We left for work in the morning and when we got home around six o’clock it was dark.

Just like Pittsburgh.

It took us three months of that to realize that living in the Sun Belt isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You still have to sit in rush hour traffic twice a day and work at a job you may not like.

We went home.

Maybe, after earning a quarter of a billion dollars and winning two NBA championships, James came to the same conclusion.

There really is no place like home

On Friday, when he made his announcement on SI.com, it was 75 degrees with 46% humidity in Cleveland. In Miami it was 90 with 68% humidity. In Miami, everybody except the tourists wanted to be inside the same way everybody in Cleveland wants to be inside in February.

Good for LeBron James and good for Cleveland.

James did something that athletes are rarely smart enough to do. He made his decision based on something other than money. When you are half way to your first half billion dollars, you have the luxury of never having to make a decision based on money again. Very few players take advantage of that luxury.

In his statement to SI.com, James wrote, “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball.”  Nine out of 10 times in professional sports, the translation of that statement would be. “I went for the cash.”

I don’t get that feeling this time.

James seems to genuinely want to return to his roots. And this is no small thing for Cleveland. And not just because it’s been 50 years since one of its major pro franchises has won a championship.

Cleveland is like so many northern cities that have been destroyed by bad government and are desperately trying to encourage natives to stay and new businesses to relocate.

This is about so much more than basketball.

LeBron James just told the world that he could live anywhere and he chose Cleveland. (Okay, maybe he actually chose Akron.)

That’s even better.

Good for Akron.

Good for Cleveland.

– So, Sidney Crosby played the entire post season with a sore wrist. There were reports that Crosby’s inner circle was upset with the Penguins for leaking the news early in the week that Crosby could be having surgery on his right wrist that was injured some time in March because he didn’t want to appear to be making excuses for his un-Crosbylike performance in the playoffs.

A sore wrist explains a lot.

People who have watched him for the last nine years were stunned by the sudden loss of accuracy with his shots and his difficulty making and accepting passes.

Maybe this will nip the “Peyton Manning of the NHL” narrative in the bud. That was a ridiculous narrative to begin with since, before this season, among players with 60 or more playoff games, only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux had averaged more post season points per game than Crosby.

– I will never ridicule or question another Pirates off season pitcher signing again.

– There are few things more ridiculous than people in the media blaming LeBron James for the circus surrounding his decision to return to Cleveland. That was a media circus. Not a LeBron circus.

– James’ decision may have helped the Browns by taking the spotlight off of Johnny Manziel. Johnny seems to like the spotlight.

– Dave Littlefield drafted Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Tony Watson.

– While channel surfing last weekend, I stumbled upon something called Pro Footvolley on Root Sports. It’s two person beach volleyball with a soccer ball. No hands allowed. It’s bad enough that the human race has descended to such depths that a sport like that would exist but, professional? On television?


I spent quite a bit of time in the Twittersphere and on my TribLive radio talk show today talking about the ratings for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The ratings were down all over and down in Pittsburgh and that gave ammunition to the people who like to claim that Pittsburgh isn’t really a hockey town and that the Penguins are really rock stars whose fans don’t really like to watch hockey games that don’t include them.

The Penguins had the best regular season, local TV ratings in the NHL. Their ratings were higher than any NBA team’s.

Pittsburgh is consistently one of the better markets for Stanley Cup playoff games that don’t include the Penguins.

(Buffalo is the best.)

Of course, there’s a huge drop off when the Penguins drop out.

Some of that is just lack of interest and a lot of it is just disappointment and not wanting to be reminded that the Penguins aren’t in it.

Hockey haters like to point to the big numbers that NFL games that don’t include the Steelers get in Pittsburgh.

It’s an apples to oranges comparison.

During the hockey season, a good Penguins fan will watch at least three Penguins games on TV. Sometimes four.

The Steelers play once a week. Every fan is going to do everything possible to see that one game.

A Steeler fan who is also a genuine pro football fan is not going to be satisfied with watching one NFL game per week.

A Penguins fan has already committed three or four nights during the week to watching NHL hockey.

It’s a little much to expect him to also put aside time to watch the NBCSports Game of the Week.

That game of the week is 1/82nd of the schedule.

Not quite the same as the Ravens playing the Bengals on Monday Night Football.

Nobody with a brain would suggest that the NFL would get the ratings it gets if it played five times as many games.

Does anybody really think the Steelers would get 45 ratings if they played 82 games?

To get a good measure of just how popular the sport of hockey (as opposed to the Penguins) is in Western Pa., you would have to survey the local schools and see how many kids are playing hockey and how many are playing football.

I would be willing to bet that the numbers are about the same, despite the fact that the schools don’t support hockey.

A generation and a half ago, Western Pa. was producing a good number of Division I basketball prospects.

How many have come out of here lately?

There are a lot more hockey players succeeding at the highest levels than there are basketball players.

The Devils and Kings play Game 2 tomorrow night. That game won’t get numbers that will come close to what the Ravens and Patriots got last year.

Mainly because football is a lot more popular than hockey.

But also because, although tomorrow night may not be officially a Summer night, it feels just like one.

The NHL is too stupid to understand how absurd it is to be playing hockey in June. Maybe someone will figure it out one of these years.

When the Patriots and the Ravens played in January, it was 20 degrees and dark outside.

They had a captive audience. The Kings and Devils don’t.





There are some fans and some in the media who think that the Penguins playing the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs is a bad thing.

The Flyers schooling the Penguins at Consol yesterday reinforced those feelings.

Put me down as thrilled that the Penguins are opening with the Flyers.

Especially after seeing what happened yesterday.

That game had a playoff feel to it and it was a great preview, not only for what might happen Saturday when they play again, but in the playoffs.

Any player on the Penguins roster who’s not thrilled to be playing the Flyers in the first round isn’t worth his weight in hockey pucks.

The Flyers –despite the Penguins two month run through the league –have established themselves as a better team than the Penguins.

The playoffs haven’t started yet and the Flyers head coach has already called the Penguins’ coaching staff gutless.

Imagine Mike Tomlin saying that about John Fox before last year’s playoff game with the Broncos.

The Penguins-Flyers series has the potential to deliver more drama and excitement than anything that has happened in Pittsburgh sports in a long, long time.

Super Bowl runs are nice but there is the potential for seven times as many games in a  Stanley Cup playoff series.

And every game has the potential to be a classic.  What happens in one game flows into the next one.

This is what I meant when I said the NCAA basketball championship is the second best tournament in North America.

How could anyone want to give this up for a series with the Florida Panthers just because it might mean an easier path to the Final?