Last week, the Orlando Magic defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals.
As is customary, every member of the opposing teams participated in the post-game handshake–everyone, except LeBron James.
He skipped out on that as well as the customary post-game interview. The media—the same media that called him the greatest player on the planet after a MVP award and a 40 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists average in the playoffs—took him straight to the woodshed…two or three times. They punished him, calling him “unsportsmanlike.”
I thought it was cruel and unusual. I sided with him. I thought…He was upset, he was frustrated, and he certainly didn’t want to talk about it.
After three days of hearing about it on every sports talk radio show, I was sick of it. I was telling anybody that would listen, “This is the part I hate about sports–beating a dead horse. What’s the big deal? So, he didn’t shake their hand.”
I didn’t think it was mandatory to shake hands after a game in the pros. I mean, most of them talk before the game. I’m sure they understand.
I’ve seen players walk off and not shake hands before. I can’t tell you who, but I’ve seen it–especially after buzzer-beaters.
Later, when I got a call from a friend who read me a blog about the whole handshaking incident, I was beside myself, and determined to write a column defending LeBron’s actions. That was until I had a five-minute conversation with my son, Kris, Wednesday night.
I sometimes ask my son if anyone has been bothering him. I try to stay on top of things. This time I did it because I had some inside information—I do work for the press. He’s been attending a baseball camp all week and we talked by phone, while I was working on articles for the weekend paper.
The conversation went like this:
Me: Kris, what’s going on at the camp?
So I dig deeper…
Me: Has anybody been bothering you?
Kris: Yeah. Joe…Joe Smuckatela (real names are left out of course) asked me why I wear goggles and I said so I can see. Then he said goggles are gay.
Me: Is he the only one?
Kris: No. Joe Doe doesn’t know my name, so he calls me “Goggles.” It doesn’t bother me when they are talking to me, but it does when they talk about me. John Doe doesn’t bother me. I don’t care if they call me Goggles.
Me: Is there anybody else?
Kris: No. Just them two. Joe Smuckatela just kept on saying, goggles are gay. He said, name one player in the major leagues that wears goggles. I said, Alfonso Soriano does. He plays for the Chicago Cubs.
I’m thinking…He had to put my beloved Cubs in the middle of this?
Kris: Joe Smuckatela said, He’s gay ain’t he?
Me: What did you do?
Kris: Nothing. I just turned around and acted like he wasn’t talking to me.
Me: You didn’t say anything ugly back?
Me: Well, son, you know things like that are going to happen to you.
Kris: Yes sir.
I have a huge grin on my face by this point, but at the same time I feel like crying. I was so proud to hear how he handled that situation.
Me: You’re going to have to deal with stuff like that all your life, but you’ll be ok.
Kris: Yes sir.
Silence…I’m thinking. Maybe I should say something to the camp director or maybe Joe Smuckatela’s dad? How do you handle a situation like this? Do I let Kris handle it his way or give it another day and take it from there?
Me: I’ll say something to the director tomorrow. What do you think?
Kris: Well, I don’t think you should because it’s not that big of a deal. It’s over with.
Me: You don’t want me to say anything?
Kris: No sir. It really doesn’t bother me.
Me: So you didn’t say anything ugly back?
Kris: No sir. I just turned around and acted like he wasn’t talking to me. Joe Smuckatela: He acts so good when he’s around his parents, but I just wish they could see how he acts when they’re not around.
Me: Well, listen. You’re going to be alright. You just keep being the way you are and keep being honest when I ask you about stuff like this. I’m proud of you and I love you.
Kris: OK. I love you.
Now, I sat there taking it all in. I can feel the tears welling up. I’m about to blow buckets of tears, but then a huge grin followed and the tears make it to the edge of my eyelids but no further.
Wow. My 11-year-old son is something special. He didn’t retaliate—and I’m pretty sure he was telling the truth, based on knowing my son and inside information—and he just shrugged it off. That’s a lesson we could all stand to look over now and then.
I was also thinking, the Good Lord must really be looking out for Kris because I’m certainly not the best role model at shrugging things off.
The foundation of such a lesson is very familiar; treat others as you would like to be treated.
That’s the lesson Kris was teaching at baseball camp with his actions and that’s a valuable lesson LeBron should learn.
When he wins, he expects congratulations, so why shouldn’t he pay homage to the victor when he’s the loser? Players from T-ball to hockey show good sportsmanship after each game. What makes LeBron any different?
And just think, I was getting ready to defend LeBron and his actions. Silly me. I had even gone so far as to say sportsmanship was overrated. Silly, silly me. Sportsmanship is very underrated.
Besides, sports is entertainment and we should all be man enough or woman enough to keep it in that context and remain good sports, no matter which side of the win/loss column we fall on during competition.
Kris, thanks for that refresher course. We are all witnesses.
Kedrick Storey is the sports editor of the Southern Sentinel.