Problems could be worse
LeBron’s decision to abandon Cleveland pales in comparison to ex-Hog Corey Beck’s relapse.
LITTLE ROCK I couldn’t help but grimace at the bad timing.
Last week I walked into the grocery store and spotted the June issue of One Day at a Time, a free publication of a Little Rock nonprofit geared toward helping alcoholics and drug addicts recover. On its front cover, one of the most famous faces in Arkansas basketball history and an accompanying article: “Ex-Razorback Corey Beck to aid prison ministry.”
Beck, of course, was the steady hand that guided Arkansas to the 1994 NCAA national championship. Far more gristle and grit than flash ‘n dash, Beck, the consummate defensive point guard, once graced a Sports Illustrated cover and played 88 games in the NBA.
But when the Memphis native’s career ended in 2002, his life tumbled apart, lurching from alcohol to drug abuse as he fell behind on his support payments for his wife and four daughters, according to the article. One early morning in 2007, he was severely injured by a gun blast while defending himself during an attempted auto theft. Starting in 2008, he spent nine months in a treatment center, and when he left it appeared he was a new man.
The article centered on Beck’s emerging redemption — how he’d gotten steady work as a painter and was helping kids in Northwest Arkansas. Indeed, Beck began coaching middle schoolers in Rogers last season, which inspired him to create two basketball camps for kids in grades two through eight, he told a local news station. Couple those feel-good stories with Beck’s early June appearance at a Little Rock prison ministry, where he affirmed his faith in God, told the story of his recovery and offered support, and everything seemed to be working out for the 39-year-old.
That is, until the early morning of July 2, when he was arrested in Fayetteville on a DWI charge and other violations including failure to yield or stop, careless driving and violation of implied consent (refusing a breathalyzer).
This is not to disparage Beck’s previous attempts at recovery or any progress he might have made despite this arrest, or since it. I don’t know him, or his situation beyond a few articles. But I can imagine that the reaction of hundreds of Arkansas prison inmates who read the June One Day at a Time when they heard about Beck’s arrest, not to mention the many Rogers kids who looked up to their coach — someone who returned to a community that had once cheered him, and was ready to cheer him again. They have a right to be deeply disappointed in a man they saw as a role model.
This situation is far more serious, and lamentable, than the one playing out in Cleveland, where its natives are beating their chests and gnashing their teeth after LeBron James’ recent decision to play for the Miami Heat. Talk of burning LeBron in effigy on the city’s streets filled cyberspace as one-time fans called him “LeFraud” and the “Betrayer of Betrayers.”
And what, exactly, is so vile about being true to yourself? LeBron’s a narcissist, but that’s nothing new. As his individual achievements have grown, so has his ego. It festered to the point where he set up an hourlong ESPN special just to announce he was leaving his home state: “the perfect gruesome marriage of the most self-serving, self-promoting network in history and a mega-superstar in the mood to rapaciously celebrate the man in the mirror,” wrote Greg Cote of the Miami Herald.
But if you don’t like the gaudy spectacle, Clevelanders, don’t watch it. Hell, give up on the sports-watching thing altogether and go play them more — they help vent frustrations. At its core, sports isn’t a tool to make one group of people feel they are better than another group. It’s a way to learn to work together, exercise and have fun doing it. If you lose, you still shake hands, exchange sweaty jerseys, etc. The game’s ultimately more important than the temporary tribalism it can foster.
LeBron could do well on any team because he is the most physically gifted forward ever, an efficient scorer and a very willing passer. But he knows only multiple championships will confer the lofty legacy he so seeks, and it’s Miami, not Cleveland, that gives him the best chance to start hoarding them. He has always said the free agent process was foremost about him and his family, so in the end a choice centered on his own legacy and happiness was logical. Clevelanders can hate him for prioritizing himself over “loyalty” to their city but they would have never loved him in the first place unless he was good enough to develop that elephantine ego.
LeBron walked away from Cleveland, but he also turned his back on the extra millions and gaudy individual statistics he would have accrued by staying there. He’ll earn less salary playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, and may never wear a scoring crown again — for the chance for perennial Finals appearances. All three stars, in the prime of their careers, will have to constantly sublimate their games in order to win titles, though, which would set a prominent example for basketball coaches everywhere.
Kids will be receptive to that lesson, as many want to learn how to win. Learning to live well — now that’s a whole different ballgame.