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Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts during the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers in an NBA basketball game on Dec. 25, 2009, in Los Angeles. (Associated Press)

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts during the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers in an NBA basketball game on Dec. 25, 2009, in Los Angeles. (Associated Press)

Free agency bringing out NBA's softer side

Last Modified: Friday, July 11, 2014 1:18 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Where have all the alpha males gone?

In a world filled with sensitive males and metro sexual dressers, the NBA seems to have lost some of its swagger.

As the world awaits the second big decision by LeBron James in the last four summers, it seems all the other free agents are willing to let the King set the table for them.

It never used to be that way.

Maybe this is a product of the participation generation, where every kid gets a trophy and some leagues don’t even keep score let alone standings.

Let’s not forget, everybody is a winner.

That seems to have run over into the NBA as well.

Already we have seen the league soften over the years when it comes to hard fouls and tough play under the basket.

Players complain on just about every play believing they have been fouled. In years back no layup went unpunished, especially during the playoffs.

Now, there is enough whining and flopping to fill a World Cup soccer tournament in every postseason series.

But this summer there seems to be a new reality in the league.

Four years ago James got together with a couple of his buddies and turned the Miami Heat from a forgotten franchise into a champion, winning two titles and losing in the Finals twice more.

All took less money to play with friends and for rings.

It is all happening again.

Call this the summer of slow change.

James is deciding where he will take his talents next, unless he keeps them in South Beach that is.

We are also hearing that others are waiting to see where he lands, most obviously Carmelo Anthony.

If Chris Bosh takes the money and runs to Houston, Anthony could end up with James in Miami.

They want to play together.

That is their right, but somewhere lost in all this is the old days of competition.

This isn’t getting together with a few friends and playing some shirts vs. skins pickup game in the park. This is pro basketball we are talking about.

It just feels like something is missing with all these wheels and deals to make super teams.

Back in the good ole days it wasn’t about getting together to win titles, it was about beating the brains out of your friends. Competition was the driving force.

Charles Barkley never wanted to play with Michael Jordan, he wanted to beat him and win his own championship.

It was much more important to be the man rather than play on the same team.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson fought like cats and dogs to one-up the other guy and win a ring.

It used to be you had to beat the best to be the best.

Not now.

We have come to realize that the sports landscape has changed and bitter rivals have become best of buddies. Or as the youngsters say, BFFs.

These teams have become corporations with the players making all the big deals.

What has become lost is the old rivalries, when teams fought each other both literally and figuratively.

That’s what made this year’s Finals so much fun to watch. You got the feeling the Spurs didn’t really care much for James’ Heat, but you never got the feeling it was mutual.

Maybe that’s why the Spurs won in five games.

Super teams may have become the in thing with players and some fans but I think we are missing the days when the best players didn’t go to another superstar’s team but rather tried to win with their own.

Those were the days when it was important to not only win, but for the best players to be the man.

Maybe I’m just being too sensitive about the subject.

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at

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