by Ryan Isley
Are we really going to do this again? Are we actually going to talk about a team and their best player not shaking hands with the competition after a hard fought game in the NBA? Yes. Yes we are.
When the Chicago Bulls defeated the Miami Heat 101-97 on Wednesday night to end the Heat’s 27-game winning streak, LeBron James set the Twitter world on fire when he walked off the floor immediately following the final buzzer, not stopping to shake hands or hug any members of the opposition. He was upset. Not only by the loss, but by the way the game was played.
The Bulls physically beat up James and the Heat, but mostly James. Their game plan was to make LeBron know that they were there and not give him any easy layups or dunks that might shift momentum in the game. The most obvious example of the Bulls plan was when Kirk Hinrich tried to tackle LeBron on a drive in the first quarter as if he was a safety and the three-time NBA MVP was headed for a game-winning touchdown.
Here is the thing – I don’t have an issue with how the Bulls played. I see no problem with it whatsoever. If the officials are going to let the two teams play – which they should – then the Bulls game plan might be the ultimate blueprint on how to beat the Heat. It was like something out of the NBA TV vault – two teams being allowed to play without being called for every little hand check and without the offensive player being bailed out on every possession. This was old school basketball. The kind of basketball we all grew up watching before superstars (and semi-stars) starting dictating the way the games were called. I can only imagine that Chuck Daly was watching this game from heaven with a grin that stretched ear to ear.
But if we are going to be fine with how the game played out, we also can’t fault LeBron for doing something else that was old school – taking the game personally and wanting to beat the daylights out of his opponent so badly that afterwards he didn’t want to be friendly with them.
Somewhere along the line, we have become a society that is so worried about sportsmanship and what we define as being such that when players don’t want to shake hands after a game – win or lose – we call them bad sports and sore losers. We say that they should be punished and scolded publicly for their lack of sportsmanship or in some cases, class. Unfortunately we have become so fixated on worrying about everyone’s feelings that sometimes we forget that there are winners and losers. The NBA isn’t some fourth grade league at the local YMCA. There aren’t trophies awarded at the end of the season for participating so that nobody walks away upset.
This is the part of sports I have grown to despise. Forgive me if I don’t have a problem with a player not wanting to shake hands with players that he just spent the last three hours trying to beat into a pulp. This isn’t just about LeBron, either – it goes for every athlete on every team. And after the game on Wednesday night, I tweeted as much. During the Twitter conversation, I was tweeted the following from Anthony Gabriele:
He makes a great point. This was one of the only examples in which I could would be upset if the players didn’t shake hands. The post-series handshake line is one of the greatest NHL traditions that still remains to this day. But you don’t see players shaking hands and hugging after every regular season game or even every individual game in the postseason.
The other example I came up with was after a round in a golf tournament. It is golf etiquette to remove your cap and shake hands with the person you played with that day, whether it is just a friendly round at the local course or a major championship on the PGA Tour. But if you watch most handshakes in golf, they are done just for that simple reason – it is proper etiquette. They aren’t shaking hands and hugging or laughing it up on the 18th green. Most times it is a simple and cordial handshake, the way it has always been.
And that brings me back to the NBA. The NBA hasn’t always been a league where guys exchange pleasantries following a game. Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell weren’t hugging at half court after they went to battle with each other. I am pretty sure the Bad Boy Pistons and the Michael Jordan’s Bulls weren’t friendly with each other after games. Even the Knicks and Heat in the 1990s had the feel of two teams who just simply didn’t like each other.
Personally, I preferred that NBA over the one we have today. Players back then didn’t play AAU ball together growing up and didn’t have friendships that overshadowed their rivalries. They didn’t want to join other superstars to win a title – they wanted to beat other superstars to win the title. And yes, I know this is a LeBron issue as well – it is the one thing I still hold against him.
So forgive me if I am not upset with LeBron for walking into the tunnel without going over to hug Carlos Boozer or share a laugh with Kirk Hinrich. Just like you forgave me when I supported him for not shaking hands and having a good time with the Orlando Magic in 2009. Even in this age we live in, I still think sports should be about beating your opponent – not becoming best friends with them.
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