In what is possibly the biggest recruiting ploy in Isiah Thomas’ stint as the head coach of the men’s basketball team at Florida International University, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade hosted the most recent NBA player charity game. The two players from the Miami Heat reportedly approached Thomas about hosting the South Florida All-Star Charity Classic, which benefits the FIU First Generation Fund through the Mary’s Court Foundation (named after Thomas’ late mother). Yes, the event was for charity but Knicks fans have to be a tad squeamish knowing that Thomas spent as much time as he did in the same gym as Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Heck, the NBA and NCAA should be squeamish about Thomas’ continued activities with NBA players. Seriously, it is fairly shady.
The teams were divided into Team Wade and Team LeBron. From there, players were partitioned based on their shoe deals, Jordan Brand and Nike sponsored players had priority placement on the teams. Team LeBron featured the aforementioned James, Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Lou Williams, Rudy Gay, Jamal Crawford, Jonny Flynn, and Damon Jones. Wade’s team was composed of Wade, Mario Chalmers, Caron Butler, Dorell Wright, Stoudemire, Anthony, Chris Paul, Wesley Matthews, John Wall, and Eddy Curry. However, in a classic Curry (aka the Hamburglar) move, he did not suit up for the game. Matthews and Williams also did not appear in the game and were replaced by James Harden and Tristan Thompson.
The players were not the only clebrities in the building, Floyd “Money” Mayweather was in the crowd as well as Gabriel Union among the 4,000 on hand for the game.
Kevin Hart coached Team Wade, and channeled coach Bob Knight at one point by throwing a chair on the court, while Udonis Haslem coached Team LeBron.
Aside from an attrocious free throw display, the game featured some fairly competitive ball. Both teams played more than passive defense. However, play around the rim, especially from Team LeBron in the first half, was sloppy at best. It is lockout basketball. It does not matter in terms other than entertainment, yet there are referees officiating the game. The refs really did not play a role in the game, other than the players looking to them for calls regularly, until the last two minutes. During the last two minutes the game grew increasingly competitive as the players took hard fouls, Anthony gave James an NBA foul and Wade and James found each other defending one another.
It came down to Anthony with Team Wade trailing by three. He delivered on a shot from the wing to tie the game at 127 with three seconds to go in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. Unfortunately, Anthony began cramping early in the overtime session. Though it did not look to be too serious, it was a reminder that players, without the aid of trainers, are vunerable to injuries as they continue to barnstorm. If James Dolan was watching, he along with Knicks fans everywhere probably held their breath for a beat or two.
In the end Team Wade triumphed 141-140 despite James’ half court make at the end of overtime. James led all scorers with 34 and Wade poured in 25. Bosh added 17.
This game was just another result of the ongoing lockout of the players. After the game, Anthony said, “The way it looks right now they’re going to cancel the first two weeks of the season.” The players and owners continue to not see eye to eye in terms of Basketball Related Income. Owners offered a split of 50/50 to the players last week but the players rejected it. Since then the owners and the league have refused to schedule any further meetings without the players first agreeing to the 50/50 BRI split. Players have said that they would go as low as 53 perecent but the owners refuse to climb higher than the 50 that they offered.
David Stern has recently stated that the owners have conceded on many of their hardline stances in an effort to reach an agreement with the players. However, this is just more double speak from the commissioner. The owners have given up nothing in monetary terms to date. It has been the players that have shouldered the biggest financial burden as their former BRI percentage was 57. It should not be the players who are forced to be held accountable for bad player investment by the the owners.
With the talks stalled for the moment, the barnstorming and exhibition games will continue and with them support for the players will increase. The NBA must return, all sides involved know this. However, it will probably get uglier before it gets better. Until then we will continue to see players don “Basketball Never Stops” shirts in sold out gyms.