It’s been weeks and the National Basketball Association is still reeling from LeBron James’ hour-long ESPN special called the Decision where he announced that he was joining Dwyane Wade and former-Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat.
The fans of James’ former team, his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, went crazy. Pure guano. Owner Dan Gilbert wrote an open letter calling the former Ohio hero a coward and compared him to reviled American traitor Benedict Arnold.
Commentators around the Association thought that Gilbert had maybe gone too far, but they understood his position. No one could understand LeBron’s thinking.
Many basketball experts bemoaned the fact that Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson would have never done something like this. That era of superstars wanted to beat each other, not join forces. The competitive balance of the league had presumably been ruined with Wade, Bosh and James conspiring to move to South Beach.
I agree to an extent. James’ decision to announce on a nationally televised infomercial that he was leaving his hometown team – without first warning the Cavaliers – was a disaster. It was ham-handed and poorly considered. Although Gilbert’s rhetoric was over-the-top, I totally understand why he’s upset.
But this noise about the competitive balance of the league being ruined is ridiculous. Simply put, the NBA doesn’t nearly have the parity of other leagues.
The NBA is not like the National Football League where any team can stun the world and win the Super Bowl. It’s not like the National Hockey League where teams can fall prey to tougher, more determined clubs in the postseason.
A scenario like the 2010 Eastern Conference playoffs where the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins – arguably the two best teams in the East – were knocked off by the opportunistic Montreal Canadiens just would never happen in the NBA.
No, every year there are a maximum of four basketball teams that stand a realistic shot at winning the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Look at this breakdown of picks from NBA.com’s experts for the 2009-10 season.
All 12 experts believed that the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers would win their divisions. Only Vince Thomas picked the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks to win their divisions. Otherwise, it was unanimous that the Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs would win the Southeast and Southwest.
The Northwest division was the only group to create any kind of controversy with three commentators picking the Denver Nuggets.
When it came to conference champions, the East was perfectly split between Boston and Cleveland, while the Lakers got 10 votes to San Antonio’s two in the West.
I’m a pretty casual basketball fan, and even I would have guessed at the Celtics or Cavaliers facing Los Angeles in the NBA Finals. The Spurs are a bit of a curveball, but they were still a pretty obvious pick.
Not surprisingly, the experts were right. The Lakers did play Boston, after the Celtics had eliminated Cleveland.
So for 2010, we have to assume that the Lakers and Boston are still going to be competitive clubs. Cleveland will be adrift without LeBron, but they will be easily replaced by the Heat as one of the new favourites in the East.
In other words, there are still three teams – and only three teams – that really have any kind of chance to win the championship.
You can say a lot about LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat. In fact, a lot of people have. But it can’t be argued that it’s ruined the parity of the league.
Ultimately, the competitive balance will stay the same in the NBA, with only a few teams having any kind of legitimate chance at winning the title. It just so happens that now one of those teams are based in Miami and not in Cleveland.
Tonight is one of the most anticipated television events of the summer: the return of the Jersey Shore.
The cast of the mega-popular MTV reality show have been brought back for a second season, this time making like Lebron James and taking their talents to South Beach, Miami.
Just like James’ decision to join Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat, Jersey Shore is surrounded by controversy.
For those somehow unfamiliar with the Jersey Shore phenomenon, it’s a really simple concept: MTV put eight young people, primarily of Italian-American descent, into a house on the boardwalk of Seaside Heights, New Jersey.
All the cast had to do was work together at a local novelty t-shirt shop, go out together and, of course, allow the cameras to follow them wherever they went.
As young people are wont to do, they got drunk, hooked-up with each other or people at the local night spots and, above all else, got into fights, culminating in cast member Ronnie Ortiz-Magro being arrested for aggravated assault.
Many Italian groups protested the show, especially Unico National, who wrote a formal letter to MTV asking the network to cancel the show before its release on the grounds that Jersey Shore was a “direct, deliberate and disgraceful attack on Italian Americans.”
More negative publicity swirled around the program when previews showed petite cast member Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi taking a punch to the face from a drunken party-goer at a local club. Although Snooki was physically unharmed, the episode aired with the assault cut out and bookended with public service announcements about the dangers of domestic violence.
Despite these controversies, the show took off in popularity and phrases like “The Situation”, “Grenade” and “Fist Pump” have entered the popular lexicon. Although it has a loyal following, there are many who cannot stand the show.
Those critics are right. At its heart, Jersey Shore is trash television that appeals to the lowest common denominator.
But ask any archaeologist or anthropologist – a culture’s garbage can be incredibly revealing about society, and Jersey Shore is no different.
The show provides a glimpse into a world full of buff bodies and fragile egos, where a total lack of self-awareness meets with a hunger for fame with explosive results.
A close examination of Jersey Shore can serve as a launching pad for discussions of all kinds of serious issues. Topics can include the educational system in the United States after hearing the cast mangle the English language, the state of healthcare in North America as they spend an equal amount of time working out and destroying their skin with tanning beds or religion as Pauly “DJ Pauly D” DelVecchio tries to reconcile his Israeli girlfriend’s Judaism with his own Roman Catholic upbringing.
Most intriguing is the casts attitudes towards sexuality, gender roles and family.
For example, although all the cast members enjoy some level of sexual promiscuity, they also prize loyalty to one’s partner: Sammi "Sweetheart" Giancola is incredibly possessive of her boyfriend Ronnie, but offers no objection when Jennifer “JWoww” Farley cheats on her boyfriend with Pauly D.
Similarly, Angelina “Jolie” Pivarnick objects when her single male roommates bring home some young ladies to enjoy the house’s hot tub. However, it’s later revealed that her boyfriend is a married man and it’s implied that she had a fling with Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino on their first night in the house.
Angelina made a quick exit from the show after a fight with her boyfriend “forced” her to miss a shift at work, resulting in her eviction from the house. Relieved that she’d been ousted from the house, the remaining roommates declared that they were a family – having only lived together for approximately one week.
At one time or another all of the female castmates declare that they want to settle down and start a family with a good guy. Most desperate to find marital bliss is Snooki, who spent the entire season trying to bring men home from local clubs.
“My ideal man would be Italian,” Nicole said in the second episode of the series. “Dark, muscled ... juice-head guido.”
When Vinny Guadagnino’s family came to visit the Shore House, all the female roommates expressed their admiration for her as she cooked for them and cleaned their house, even cutting her son’s food for him. That’s how a proper woman acts, in their mind.
Yet they continued to do backflips in mini-skirts and thongs, make-out with random men (and sometimes women) and have one night stands with strangers.
Most fans of the show call Jersey Shore a car wreck – their morbid curiosity prevents them from changing the channel - but I think it’s the inherent hypocrisy in the actions of the cast that is fascinating.
Where do these people come from? How did they develop such a jaundiced view of the world? What do their parents think of the show? It’s a fountain of rhetorical questions.
It’s a stunning look at a segment of North American culture that is engrossing and depressing, educational and trashy, entertaining but dulling. The second season has big shoes to fill, but I expect it’ll be equally fascinating, at the very least to see how fame has altered the housemate’s already twisted perspective on reality.
This summer could be particularly heart-breaking for fans of the Toronto Raptors as they face the prospect of forward Chris Bosh, arguably the best player the team has ever seen, leaving the city as a free agent.
Toronto Blue Jays fans can sympathize with their basketball neighbours – this summer they lost ace Roy Halladay in a lopsided trade with the Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners.
It’s a familiar story for Torontonians. One of their teams will draft a player who becomes a star, but the franchise player eventually begins to grumble and complain about greener pastures, eventually demanding a trade or letting their contract expire and moving on via free agency.
Fortunately, NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady, a former Raptor, was in town and shed some light on the topic during a shoot-around with his teammates on the New York Knicks.
“Some guys do it for different reasons,” McGrady said. “[Bosh has] been here for quite some time now, and he's personally been successful. The team really hasn't done that much.”
And that’s the problem – teams in Toronto struggle against American competition. There are two main reasons for this:
1. The taxes in Canada limit team’s options when it comes to free agency.
Any professional athlete in a major sport (basketball, baseball, hockey) is going to earn in the high six figures.
In the United States, that would put them in the highest tax bracket, where they’d have to pay about 4.3% of their annual income to the federal government.
Employees in Canada who earn more than $126,264 pay 29% of their annual income to the federal government.
That is a jarring disparity. An athlete who earns $10 million per year on the Blue Jays or the Raptors would have to pay $2.9 million to the taxman. In the United States that same athlete would have to pay $430,000.
It’s tough to compete with other teams for prized free agents when they player will be losing 29% on the dollar just for signing on the dotted line.
2. Teams in Toronto offer less media exposure, making it a less attractive option for players.
Toronto is the biggest media centre in Canada, and actually stacks up pretty well against other North American cities in terms of population (fifth largest city, eighth largest metropolitan area).
However, sports teams based in Toronto get the short end of the stick when it comes to being televised on American networks.
Without a high profile in the United States an athlete can’t capitalize on their secondary source of income – endorsements and sponsorships. For example, Chris Bosh was drafted in 2003, the same year as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. However, Bosh doesn’t even rank in the top 15 for jersey sales, and neither does Toronto for team sales. By comparison, all of Bosh’s draftmates rate highly on the list, even though they play for teams in smaller markets.
It all boils down to money. Professional athletes lose significant amounts of income from both of their main revenue sources, which makes Toronto a tough sell.
Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned hockey, a sport that has six teams in Canada? Simple, really.
Most hockey players are Canadian, and so they’re used to heavy taxation. The second largest group of players in the National Hockey League are European, who are also used to high taxes.
Also, the fact that there are six Canadian teams mitigates the lack of coverage in the United States - ESPN can ignore the Raptors and Blue Jays because they’re the only Canadian teams in the league, but when there’s at least one Canadian team playing every night and every franchise prominently features athletes from Canada, they’ve got no choice but to acknowledge non-American teams.
As an aside, all this adds to the fact that the Buffalo Bills, or any other team NFL team, would not work in Toronto.
All this is to say that in leagues where there is only one Canadian team (NBA, MLB and the MLS) there is a nearly unique set of challenges that face franchises based in Toronto. When the Raptors, Blue Jays and TFC struggle in the standings and begin to lose marquee players, it’s probably because they’re not grappling with the reality of the market.
Sure, a team can draft a young prospect, but it’s tremendously difficult to put together a team that can contend for the championship when so many players see Toronto as an undesirable city to play in.