Young LeBron in Cleveland
Today, we’re doing a little collab with our good friend Tom Haberstroh, who wrote a fantastic piece he calls “The 4 Hall of Fame Careers of LeBron James.” Most of you probably remember — or at least remember me referencing — Bill James’ famous pronouncement in “The New Historical Abstract” about Rickey Henderson:
Someone asked me did I think Rickey Henderson was a Hall of Famer. I told them, “If you could split him in two, you’d have two Hall of Famers.” The greatest base stealer of all time, the greatest power/speed combination of all time (except maybe Barry Bonds), the greatest leadoff man of all time …”
We can talk more about Rickey another time — it’s always fun to talk about Rickey — but what Tom does is break down LeBron James’ amazing career into FOUR Hall of Fame chapters, and he does it in a number of different ways, and I’m telling you, head on over there and check it out because you’ll really enjoy it, just like you’ll really enjoy reading all of Tom’s stuff.
And in celebration of the piece, I will be writing a little bit about LeBron’s early days in Cleveland.
Before we get there, though: A number of you have asked if there’s any way to get a signed and inscribed copy of WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL in time for Christmas. Well, if you want just a signed copy, they do still have some at Rainy Day Books. So that’s fairly easy, while supplies last.
However, if you want something personalized, that’s a bit trickier because I’m off the road for the rest of the year (and for a while after) working on my new book, WHY WE LOVE FOOTBALL. Your best bet, I think, is to call our favorite Charlotte bookstore, Park Road Books, and try to place an order there. I know they’ve got a shipment of books coming in (I don’t know how big a shipment), and I will plan on stopping in there over the next few days to sign and personalize some books. I’d certainly love to sign and personalize a copy for you, but I’d call the store as soon as possible (704.525.9239) and place your order if you don’t want to get shut out.
Bingo Smith was my first favorite Cleveland Cavaliers player. It was undoubtedly because of that nickname, “Bingo.” His real name was Robert Smith, which is hardly eye-catching. When he was in college at Tulsa, the great announcer Len Morton used to yell out “Bingo!” when he made a long jumper. He made so many of them that, at some point, they just started calling him Bingo Smith.
Then, after he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers, he continued to make those long jumpers, and Cleveland’s great announcer Joe Tait used to call them “Bingo Rainbows.”
You can see how Bingo Smith would be a little kid’s favorite player.*
*It doesn’t feel so long ago, but it was. We lost Bingo Smith a few weeks ago; he was 77 years old. We lost Len Morton a couple of years ago at age 91. And we lost Joe Tait a couple of years ago, too; he was 83. Man, Hemingway was right: All stories, if continued far enough, end in death. How’s that bit of gloom with your morning coffee?
Bingo Smith — and others like Austin Carr and Footsie Walker and Campy Russell and the Jims* (Brewer, Chones and Cleamons) set me on a course for adventure, my mind on a new romance. Loving the Cavaliers was different from loving the other Cleveland teams. The Browns were heartbreakers. The Tribe had bad judgment.
But the Cavs? Oh, the Cavs were clowns.
*A little shoutout to you Shoresy fans to make up for the Hemingway downer.
I was just talking with someone who was putting together a project on Ted Stepien, the old Cavaliers owner. What a wonderful yeehaw that guy was. He must have been one heck of a businessman; the story goes that he got a $500 loan from his father and started an ad agency that made him a multi-multi-millionaire, rich enough to buy the Cavaliers in 1980.
This was the same year that, as a stunt to promote his professional softball team, he stood on the 52nd floor of Cleveland’s tallest building, the Terminal Tower, and dropped softballs out the window for his players to catch. Unfortunately, Ted Stepien was not an expert in estimating wind or understanding just how high the 52nd floor actually was or, really, anything else: So those softballs dented cars and broke a woman’s arm and basically sent people scurrying like the city was being attacked by Godzilla.
As it turns out,