One of the saddest sights in professional sports is an athlete who simply gives up, whose will to win has been left somewhere else other than in the ring or on the arena floor.
That’s the sorry sight NBA fans had to witness Wednesday night when the entire Cleveland Cavaliers, the team the great LeBron James once played for, took the floor at Quickens Loan Arena and quit against a Los Angeles Lakers team that didn’t have the great Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol or Steve Nash in uniform.
Now, of course, had the Lakers had Kobe, the fact the sorry Cavaliers quit might make sense. For players like him, James, Kevin Durant and, oh, Michael Jordan can make an inferior opponent say he has had enough.
True, too, that in a sport like boxing or mixed martial arts the brute power of an opponent can do likewise. Does anybody remember Roberto Duran and his no mas loss to Sugar Ray Leonard?
But boxing is nothing like professional basketball, where the glitz and glam of the good life make traveling and high rolling part of the attraction — for well-heeled fans and for multimillion-dollar players.
For the big checks a player cashes, all a fan can ask is effort, but no one who saw the Cavaliers quit can point to any effort. They fell behind early, and the timid run they made late at cutting into a 29-point deficit fell apart as the game, which one sportswriter called “the most bizarre of the season,” neared its end.
The final score was 119-108, but the score didn’t tell the entire story. By game’s end, the Lakers, who once led 45-19, were playing with five players. They had zero bench left, forcing coach Mike D’Antoni, no X’s and O’s genius, to use what amounted to an all-scrub team.
So what does this tell you about the Cavaliers, who fired their no-account general manager a day go?
A lot …
The entire franchise seems to be waiting for LeBron, who can opt out of his deal with the Miami Heat after the season and return.
Apparently, coach Mike Brown, the current and former Cavs coach, is waiting as well or else he’s hoping the NBA lottery will allow the Cavaliers again to land the No. 1 overall pick (no Anthony Bennett this time, please). That looks more likely than the return of King James, because why would he, or anybody else of NBA royalty, return to a mess of a franchise such as this one?
A team like the Cavs can look to its future with promise if it wants, but it owes plenty to the present. It owes hard work; it owes dedication; it owes resilience; it owes what Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng, Tristan Thompson and the rest didn’t give in their loss to the Lakers: effort.
Whose fault is that?
Blame it on Coach Brown if you want. Blame it on the culture of the NBA, a culture that rewards halfhearted efforts without exacting consequences.
But in parceling out the blame, the bulk of it goes to the players, millionaire men who must give more than they did this night at The Q. Play for pride, if that’s the way you must look at your performance, but play — play hard or retire.
Yet don’t quit in the middle of a game or a season. No fan deserves to see that sight on his television or from the overpriced seats inside a NBA arena.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh
(Photo: AP Photo/Mark Duncan)