Opinion

The Great Debate

LeBron James, the best basketball player on the planet, is taking his ball and going home

RTR3TIJS.jpg On Friday, LeBron James announced his decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, spurning the Miami Heat and sending shockwaves through the NBA. For Cleveland, a sports town routinely snakebitten, it’s hard to overstate the importance of this moment. When James, famously took “his talents to South Beach” in 2010, jilted fans burned jerseys in the streets like letters from an ex-girlfriend. Traitor, they called him, and much worse. The team’s owner penned a childishly angry, all-caps Comic Sans letter condemning the Akron, Ohio, native.

None of that vitriol went away as James won two titles with Miami and became the undisputed best player in the game.

But now he’s back, and with James and rookie Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, Cleveland has arguably sports’ two most-talked-about athletes. The spotlight shines bright on Northeast Ohio, where, as James said in his announcement through Sports Illustrated, “nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.”

The politician in James understands the need to coax the community back to embracing him, but from the looks of the spontaneous public celebrations throughout Cleveland, he needn’t have bothered.

He’s been welcomed back with open arms.

With James on the court, the Cavaliers instantly become a favorite in the Eastern Conference. Surrounding James is all-star Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett and rookie Andrew Wiggins. All four of them No. 1 overall draft picks, and none of them has reached their full potential.

The unknown variable is the team’s front office. First-year general manager David Griffin will have to fill out the Cavaliers’ roster with the kind of proven role-players that won James his two titles in Miami. On the sidelines, rookie head coach David Blatt has the benefit of James to help tutor his promising talent, but little room for error if the team unexpectedly flirts with mediocrity.

In defense of the NCAA

As the annual March Madness basketball tournament returns, so does our collective ambivalence toward college sports operated by the NCAA. Many find it outrageous that with so much money at stake, the players aren’t paid.

This debate normally leads to two different solutions: either pay student-athletes and acknowledge their true status as university employees, or focus on universities’ true purpose — education — and only admit academically qualified students, effectively ending Division I college sports as we know it. Supporters of the latter argue we should drop the charade that these players are amateurs, and replace the NCAA with a minor league for football and basketball, where players are paid.

From an economic perspective, however, the current system is a better alternative for most athletes. The NCAA college-athlete model, where pay consists largely of scholarships, is a good one because it overcomes a market failure that would arise if all promising high school athletes went straight to the minor leagues. Replacing the NCAA with a pay-for-play system is not the answer. Instead, we should embrace the model we have and adjust it to serve the majority of athletes.

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