TIME Basketball

Meet the First Woman to Run a Major U.S. Pro Sports Union

Michele Roberts
An undated photo of Michele Roberts. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher—Flom LLP/AP

Michele Roberts, star Washington D.C. litigator, talks about her humble beginnings, measuring success, and her changed view on race

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about breaking a glass ceiling,” says Michele Roberts, the new executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). She went ahead and shattered one anyway.

Roberts, who was named union chief early this week, is the first woman to head a players union for the top four U.S. pro sports leagues (basketball, football, baseball, hockey). Given the outsized impact of sports business on American culture, the importance of this appointment can’t be overstated. “Michele will inherently be a role model for girls and women aspiring to leadership roles in all sectors,” says Kathryn Olson, CEO for the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Roberts’ resume was too attractive to turn away. She was a star Washington litigator; Washingtonian magazine once named her the “finest pure trial lawyer in Washington.” Throughout her career, which began in the D.C. public defender’s office in 1980, Roberts showed an uncanny ability to connect with juries, a skill she hopes to transfer to the negotiating table.

“As a trial lawyer, you have to clarify minds, and change minds,” says Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, who recruited Roberts to the public defender’s office. “She does the homework, and understands the arguments that need to be made. There won’t be a time when someone across the bargaining table doesn’t say, ‘Wow, I learned something.’”

During the interview process for her new high-profile gig, Roberts’ personal history helped form a bond with the players. Like some of them, she came from humble beginnings. “She could identify with us,” says Roger Mason Jr., NBPA vice president. Roberts was raised in a South Bronx housing project, and became interested in the law after seeing her older brother’s friends get sent to jail. Often, her mother told her, they couldn’t afford good representation, and it cost them.

“I’m not going to say I was proud to be poor – nobody believes that,” says Roberts. “But I’m proud that my background guided my life.” She still keeps in touch with three children – all named after her – of acquitted clients from her public defender days.

Roberts attended a prep school in the New York City suburbs, and encountered the kind of racism that was all too common at the time. “Many people hadn’t had any contact with black people,” Roberts says during a Tuesday telephone interview from Las Vegas, where the announcement of her appointment was made. “They weren’t necessarily evil, just ignorant.”

For years, this experience framed her worldview. By 1988, she was leading the trial division of the public defender’s office, and the Washington Post magazine ran an extensive profile on her. She said in that story: “I liked school, and all I wanted to do was go to school, finish up and go to college. And then I went to prep school and met these creatures: The students and some of the professors were just blatant racists. And I didn’t know anything about that before I came there. I became more aggressive in my studies, because I refused to let any of these white folks think that I was stupid. It probably has some impact on how I behave in court. Most of my opponents are white, and there’s no question that I’m more aggressive when I’m dealing with them. I am immediately suspicious of white people. I just assume, for better or worse, that they have preconceived notions about the intelligence of black people. Thankfully, I am often proved wrong, at least by people in this office.”

When asked about that comment today, Roberts doesn’t run from it: she calls it her “genuine” feeling at the time, over 25 years ago. But after working in private practice, and at prestigious white-collar firms, since those days — and while further removed from her high school experience — Roberts says her views have “evolved.” She is far from “suspicious” of white people. “The very, very goods news is that’s no longer how I see the world,” says Roberts. “And I’m happy to say that.”

She’s also delighted that the players who hired her were blind to gender. “The only question in my mind, really, was, ‘Were they unwilling to give me a chance because I was a woman?’” Roberts says. “We had so many intelligent conversations about this issue. What’s most impressive to me is, once they saw my accomplishments and the value I can add, that didn’t stop them from making the offer, even while others may have predicted otherwise.”

Roberts is used to winning, and during the last round of negotiations between the NBA and its players, the union fell short. In the collective bargaining agreement that ended the 2011 lockout, the players’ share of basketball-related income declined, from 57% to 50%. Maximum guaranteed contracts were shortened, and harsher penalties levied on teams that exceeded the salary cap. Former executive Billy Hunter was fired in February 2013, after an investigation revealed questionable business practices.

With Roberts now at the helm, the union is ready to look forward. “This is not going to be Billy Hunter vs. the NBA,” says Roberts. “This is Michele Roberts and a team of gladiators. I don’t tout that I have some magic formula. That would be a recipe for disaster.” Roberts’ competitive flair has also impressed the players. (During her public defender days, she almost got a black belt in taekwondo. “But then I had to fight two 16-year-old girls at the same time,” Roberts says. “They beat the hell out of me.”)

“I understand that there’s going to be some level of winning and losing in any big negotiation,” she says. “In the end, I want my clients to be happy. If my clients got the best deal they could under the circumstances, I would consider it a win. I would consider it a catastrophe – and it never would happen – if my clients felt shortchanged in a negotiation.”

Both players and owners can opt out of the current deal in 2017. Although Roberts is not ready to talk specific strategies and priorities during her first full day on the job, it’s not difficult to read the signals — more than likely, the players will exercise that right. “When we speak about value, of course we feel we should be getting more,” says Mason Jr. If a work stoppage were to follow, both Roberts and NBA commissioner Adam Silver, whose popularity has soared since he took a hard line against Donald Sterling, will take their hits. Fans rarely seep themselves in the mind-numbing economic details. They just want to see basketball.

For now, Roberts – a lifelong hoops fan – is still riding high. “When I got up this morning, I giggled out loud,” says Roberts. “It was still true. I got the job.” And she does feel some weight of history. “I have two nieces that I worship,” says Roberts, who has never married. “And the pride I feel when I hear how proud they are of me is tremendous. It’s important for women to break barriers. But I don’t wake up and say, ‘Let’s break some barriers today.’ I wake up and say, ‘What do I have to do to best serve my client?’ And if I happen to break some barriers along the way, God bless me.”

TIME Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Lives Lost: Remembering Karlijn Keijzer, Indiana University Rower and Chemist

Ukraine Plane Indiana Victim
An undated photo of Karlijn Keijzer provided by Indiana University on July 18, 2014. Indiana University/AP

After helping transform the Hoosiers rowing program in the 2011 season, she turned to her PhD career as a scientist intent on fighting cancer and other diseases.

“I’m not an overly emotional person,” says Steve Peterson, the head women’s rowing coach at Indiana University.

But late Friday afternoon, while talking about Karlijn Keijzer (pronounced Kar-line Kite-ser)–a former Indiana University rower who was killed on Malaysia Airlines Fight 17 on Thursday–Peterson reached his breaking point. She was 25. “One of my favorite memories that keeps popping into my head, and it makes me so sad to say this,” Peterson says, unable to continue his words. Between several pauses to let the tears pass, he explains why he can no longer hide his grief. It was such a small thing, really, but it meant so much.

After every season, Peterson conducts exit interviews with his athletes. Keijzer was from the Netherlands, and under NCAA rules was eligible to row only one year while she pursued her graduate studies in chemistry. Keijzer was a key recruit for Peterson, who was looking to draw more international athletes, with more experience, to help keep Indiana competitive in the Big Ten. Keijzer was a terrific fit. She had competed in prestigious events, like the European Rowing Junior Championships and the World Rowing Junior Championships. She had Olympic aspirations.

During that 2011 season, she helped transform the Indiana program, leading the Hoosiers to a 14-5 record. She rowed with the Varsity 8 – “the big cheese,” says Peterson – and sat in the “stroke” position. In rowing, the stroke sits closest to the coxswain, and is not unlike the boat’s quarterback. “The stroke sets the rhythm, the pace,” says Peterson. “The best rower sits in the stroke seat.” Peterson calls Keijzer one of the best rowers he’s ever coached, and he’s been at it for 30 years.

But during that exit interview that Peterson can’t bear to describe, Keijzer didn’t want to talk about her own performance. “She was just encouraging me, telling me, “Your on the right path, keep doing what you’re doing,” says Peterson. Smitten with Bloomington, Keijzer wound up staying on the IU campus, ditching a potential rowing career for the school’s PhD program in chemistry. So this season, she saw Peterson’s team make it all the way to the NCAA championships for the first time in school history. Peterson traces this success directly back to Keijzer’s boat, which made IU nationally relevant and helped bolster recruiting. “After we finally made it, she says ‘I told you you can do it,’” says Peterson. “She was just so ridiculously supportive.”

The Malaysia Flight 17 tragedy has already cost so much. In Keijzer, a senseless act cost of group of rowers a beloved teammate, her fellow chemistry students a popular colleague, and the world a scientist intent on fighting cancer and other diseases.

David Giedroc, professor and chair of Indiana’s chemistry department, remembers Keijzer walking into his office as soon as she got on campus. She asked if he would advise him. “Here was this confident young lady, passionate about science and sports,” says Giedroc. “High level science and high level NCAA sports – that’s a fairly exotic combination for a graduate student.” During her first year at IU, when she was both rowing and studying, Keijzer would sometimes fall asleep in her lab chair. Still, she somehow managed to make the 6:00 am practices.

“We’d be in the locker room at 5:30, it would be windy, rainy,” says Jaclyn Riedel, one of Keijzer’s teammates. “But she was kind of leading the charge, cheering everyone on. She was just infectious.”The Amsterdam girl took to Indiana, calling herself a “Dutch Hoosier.” To fit in, she came to one party dressed as an ear of corn. “She wore black spandex, a long yellow shirt with frayed edges, and her hair was green,” says Riedel. Her teammates would ask her for informal Dutch lessons, and when they found out the word for garden gnome – kabouter – a select few, including Keijzer and Riedel, started calling themselves “the kabouters.” They headed to Home Depot to pick up a few statuettes. The gnomes became good luck charms. Riedel would carry one in her backpack, “though it never went into the boat,” she says.

After wrapping up her rowing career, Keijzer kept pursuing her doctorate. “As a computational chemist, she had enormous potential,” says Giedroc. This summer, Keijzer was working in the Netherlands, collaborating with researchers at VU University Amsterdam on simulations of anti-tumor drugs. At IU, she was working on developing a computer program that calculates how anti-cancer molecules interacted with partner proteins that might play a role in cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

“She was so passionate pharmacological chemistry, and helping people that way,” says Meghan McCormick, Keijzer’s lab mate for four years. “Cancer was just one obstacle she was tackling. She also took on a project seeking better HPV vaccines.” Keijzer and McCormick were co-authors on a study just published in the Journal of the American Chemistry Society, titled: “Understanding Intrinsically Irreversible, Non-Nernstian, Two-Electron Redox Processes: A Combined Experimental and Computational Study of the Electrochemical Activation of Platinum(IV) Antitumor Prodrugs.” McCormick offers the lay explanation: “Many second and third generation cancer drugs aren’t working as well as they could be. We think we can make better ones, based on the methodology and tools that we used.” “She was just a strong woman,” says McCormick. “As a woman in science, a woman in chemistry, she was a big inspiration. We always felt like we had to prove ourselves a little bit more, to fight through the biases. We fed off each other’s strengths.” McCormick starts tearing up. “It’s certainly going to take a very long time to walk into that lab, and not see her sitting next to me,” says McCormick. “I’m so used to seeing her smiling at me, drinking coffee, giving me encouragement.”

Keijzer was on the Malaysia Airways flight with her boyfriend, bound for a summer vacation in Indonesia before she returned to Indiana. Kuala Lumpur was a layover. When Peterson, her old coach, got word from a former rower on Thursday that Keijzer was most likely on the plane, he was in a car with his family, on his way to visiting a friend in northern Ohio. He didn’t want to believe it. When he saw the confirmation on Keijzer’s Facebook page, the devastation set in.

“She was such an optimist,” says Peterson. “Not just for herself, but for her team, and for everybody around her. She was always there, smiling, a best friend. That’s now all cut way too short. That’s what really makes me sad.”


Pro Gay-Rights Former NFL Player Suing Vikings to Release Dismissal Report

Chris Kluwe
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, pictured in a 2012 Minnesota Vikings NFL portrait. AP

Chris Kluwe, the outspoken ex-NFL punter, plans on suing his old team, the Minnesota Vikings, for discrimination

When former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe posted an explosive article on Deadspin in January, alleging that the team dumped him for being an outspoken supporter of gay marriage, he knew his career was pretty much over.

“I’m now known as the activist punter,” Kluwe tells TIME. “So when teams are choosing between a guy who has baggage and a guy who doesn’t, then it’s usually an easy choice for the team to make.”

What Kluwe didn’t expect was that the Vikings would open an independent investigation of his claims, and then, he says, keep those findings hidden.

So Kluwe announced Tuesday that he plans to file a discrimination suit against the Vikings, unless the findings of the investigation are made public. According to Kluwe’s lawyer, Clayton Halunen, over the past few months he and the Vikings have discussed terms of a possible settlement, which included the report going public, a donation of $1 million to two LGBT charities, and a public apology from special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who allegedly said in a meeting “we should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.” (Priefer was retained as an assistant by new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer).

Halunen said he talked to the investigators hired by the Vikings to probe the case, and they told him the report was finished and corroborated the gist of Kluwe’s allegations, including Priefer’s remark. On Monday afternoon, however, Halunen says he met with Vikings lawyers, and they told him the team wouldn’t release the report. “For six months, we were repeatedly told that the report would be made public,” says Halunen. “This news was very shocking.”

In a statement, the Vikings said, in part, that “in order to further maintain objectivity and integrity, the team engaged a nationally-prominent law firm — Littler Mendelson P.C. — to evaluate employment law matters and provide findings and recommendations to the Vikings. Those recommendations are to be provided to the team this week … the Vikings have never made or broken promises as Kluwe and his attorney Clayton Halunen have claimed … As we have consistently communicated throughout this process, the Vikings will have further comment when the investigation is entirely complete and the team has made determinations on next steps.” You can read the full statement here. The Vikings did not return a request for further comment. Halunen and the team’s lawyers are scheduled to meet on Thursday.

Why does Kluwe want the report to go public?

“For one, it corroborates my claims, obviously, or else they would have made it public by now,” says Kluwe. “And two, it shows the kind of atmosphere that could be allowed to happen if steps aren’t taken to correct that kind of culture. We want to make people aware that what they’re saying has consequences, and can be potentially hurtful to other people.” He also hopes the NFL can learn lessons. “Even though you are the NFL, you are still a business, and you are required to abide by the law,” Kluwe says. “You can’t say, just because this is football we don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else, which I think is very important when you’re talking about a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry that frequently takes public funds to construct stadiums and host events.”

In his Deadspin piece, Kluwe wrote, “If there’s one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story, it’s to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL.” Kluwe wants that one back.

“I was being too harsh there,” Kluwe says. “What I would like to see is coach Priefer suspended for a period of time, subject to the personal conduct policy — I mean, that’s something we all have to abide by — and then to get training and work with the LGBT groups to understand why what he did was wrong. Because that way, he can serve as a positive role model to other potential coaches or managers out there who might be thinking of doing the same thing he did.

“The NFL is all about redemption stories, right?”

Lately, Kluwe spends his days as a stay-at-home-dad and science fiction novelist. He’s currently shopping a book, entitled “Genesis Prime,” which he co-wrote with friend and bandmate Andy Reiner (Kluwe plays bass for Tripping Icarus, a Minneapolis-based group).

“It’s essentially a very human story about what happens with those in power, as power always corrupts,” Kluwe says. “You can start out with the noblest of intentions, but then along the way you get to a point where you might think you’re doing things for the right reasons, but you’re not.” Hmmm. NFL metaphor, anyone? “No so much the NFL, just large structures in general,” Kluwe says. “You can look at what’s happening with the NSA, you can look at what’s happening with our drone program, even what’s happening with the Catholic Church.”

While Kluwe is comfortable pursuing a writing career and looking after his two young daughters in their Huntington Beach, Calif. home, he still wants an NFL job. He has eight years of punting experience, and was in the top-10 in yards-per-punt during three different seasons. Kluwe says he’s been kicking balls, and is in game shape. Still, since the Deadspin story posted, no NFL team has called. He doesn’t regret writing the piece, but is still disappointed.

“In the NFL, it’s okay to commit crimes or beat your wife or get caught drunk driving, but when you speak out for something, that’s the line you can’t cross.

“Apparently, I can’t be redeemed.”

TIME Sports

Economist: LeBron James Worth Almost $500 Million to Cleveland

Cleveland Celebrates LeBron James Coming Home
A Cleveland Cavaliers fan watches news coverage of LeBron James' return at Panini's Bar and Grille in downtown Cleveland on July 11, 2014 Angelo Merendino—Getty Images

But a lot would have to go exactly right

When LeBron James announced that he was coming home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he did more than give long-suffering fans reason to believe the city could soon win its first championship in any major sport since 1964. King James also boosted Cleveland’s bottom line.

The greatest player on the planet could be an economic catalyst for the Rust Belt city. More fans will flock to Quicken Loans Arena to see James play, more staff will be needed at the arena to handle those larger crowds, more money will be spent during games at local bars and restaurants, and all of that will get pumped back into the region. The result, says LeRoy Brooks, a professor of finance at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland, could be nearly $500 million added to the local economy. Call it the LeBron Effect.

Of course, that forecast is preliminary and depends on a number of variables. Here’s how Brooks found his way to $500 million (or so):

Cleveland’s home-ticket prices last year averaged $68.17, according to TiqIQ. In 2009–10, the last season James played in Cleveland prior to leaving for Miami, Cavs ticket prices averaged $195. Last season, Cavs fans paid $202.74, on average, to watch Miami beat Cleveland.

Miami had the NBA’s highest average ticket price last season, at $245. To account for the lower cost of living in Cleveland, let’s make what still might be a conservative estimate: Cavs tickets go for $210, on average (remember — this doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of seats for far less). Cavs attendance last year averaged 17,329 per game. With James, the Cavs are likely to fill up their arena’s capacity of 20,562. Spread over 41 home games, James could bring in $129 million in additional ticket revenue for Cleveland.

According to Brooks, Cleveland’s leisure economy — think hotels, bars, restaurants, shops — lost $48 million in annual revenue after James left, as fans and media lost interest in the team and spent less money. Brooks assumes that money is recovered, adjusts it for inflation, and adds a 10% premium for James’ increased popularity since 2009–10 — after all, he’s now a two-time NBA champ, and a player more on par with Michael Jordan than he was when he was last in Cleveland. That’s $57 million in local spending James brings in. Brooks estimates that money will trickle through the greater northeast Ohio area, to the tune of another $114 million. So add that amount to the haul, and that brings in $171 million of non-ticket-related economic activity generated by James. In all, we’re at $300 million.

Now, add the playoffs. Each home game generates around $15 million in economic activity, according to data collected by Brooks. Vegas has already made Cleveland the favorite to win the NBA title. For fun, let’s roll with the oddsmakers and assume the Cavs make it all the way to the finals. Let’s give them home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs — that could give them three home games a series if they don’t sweep, or if they don’t need a Game 7. Let’s say one series does need a Game 7, and a fourth home game — that’s 10 home games for the three-playoff series. In the finals, say they face the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs, who have a better record, but take the series to a least a sixth game. That’s three more games. That’s 13 home playoff games in all, or $195 million from the playoffs.

Under this scenario, James delivers $495 million to northeast Ohio.

Brooks is the first to admit these are educated guesses. Cut down the number of playoff games or the average ticket price, and the economic impact will be significantly lower. Plus, the Cleveland metro area has a $111 billion GDP. At around $500 million, James’ impact would be worth just 0.42% of Cleveland’s overall economic activity.

The city has come a long way since it was known as the “Mistake by the Lake.” A booming biomedical sector, fueled by the Cleveland Clinic, has helped recover some of the jobs lost in the decline in manufacturing. The arrival of another hyped star, rookie Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, and the GOP’s announcement that it will hold the 2016 Republican National Convention in the city have also created some momentum. And the metro-area unemployment has fallen to 6.8%, down from a recession-era high of 10% in January 2010.

Still, that rate is higher than the 6.1% national average. And the Cleveland area ranked in the bottom fifth in the country in job growth from 2012 to 2014, according to USA Today. But James’ return is welcome news in Cleveland no matter the size of the economic benefit — something even an economist can recognize.

“The Cleveland fan can expect the LeBron Effect to provide a lot more positive and less negative experiences then most of them have had in any prior year, or imagined that they would ever see in the future prior to LeBron’s announcement,” says Brooks. “Many would view this as priceless.”


Yeah, LeBron James Totally Won Free Agency

LeBron's a different man now

If LeBron has any “haters” left, now’s not a bad time to exit that whole silly business.

In a simple, direct, and utterly genuine essay penned, with the help of writer Lee Jenkins, on SI.com, James announced Friday he’s coming home to Cleveland. He’s leaving the Miami Heat, which has won two championships during his four years in South Beach, for a team with the worst record in the NBA since he departed in 2010. Why would he take less guaranteed money with Miami, and much shakier prospects at adding more rings to his fingers, to sign with the Cavs?

“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” James wrote. “I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”

No chirping about taking his talents somewhere. “I’m not having a press conference or party,” James writes. He just a offers a frank assessment of where his head is at now, compared to where it was four summers ago, when he made his infamous “Decision” on national television. James’ openness, and emotional maturity, should be applauded. He admitted what any reasonable person watching James in that Boys & Girls Club four years ago could see: he was stressed as all hell about leaving Cleveland. He looked somewhat miserable that evening.

“I was thinking, this is really tough. I could feel it,” James writes. So could everyone else. “I was leaving something I had spent a long time creating.”

But he needed that first ring, and knew, back then, that joining up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami was the easiest path to that goal. “When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission,” James writes. “I was seeking championships.” After sports fans cheered when the Big Three lost to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 NBA Finals — and LeBron underperformed — James became a happy mercenary. You can still criticize him, I guess, for avoiding the rough road to a title. Michael never left Chicago. Bird never left Boston. Magic never left the Lakers. Kobe never left the Lakers. Isaiah Thomas never left Detroit. But LeBron never had his Scottie Pippen, his McHale and Parish, his Kareem and Worthy, his Shaq, his Joe Dumars and his Bad Boys. And bottom line, when James writes, “I became a better player and better man” in Miami, he’s absolutely right. He put in the work to develop a post-game, to become a more efficient outside shooter and creator. He took no easy road.

He’s made his peace with Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner who torched James when he left for Miami. “I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man,” James writes in SI. “We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?” Gilbert is so, so lucky that James is a “better man.” No one would have blamed James if he never wanted to work for someone who became so unhinged.

So James is coming home to write the fairy tale ending, and try to deliver Cleveland its first major sports title since 1964. The Cavs team he left in 2010 was probably more championship-ready than the one he’s coming to (unless Cleveland can land Minnesota’s Kevin Love in a trade). Now, he’s voluntarily taking a rougher road — at less money, we should repeat — for more hardware. Should Miami fans feel cheated? Ha. Lebron helped the Heat win two more titles, on top of the one Wade delivered, nearly on his own, in 2006. The Miami Heat made its franchise debut 26 years ago, and have won three championships. You know how many franchises have won more titles than Miami over that period? Just three: the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. Detroit, like Miami, has won three. So 25 NBA teams, and fan bases, would love to have Miami’s problems. Also, South Beach isn’t the most sympathetic fan base. Remember when all those people left Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, and tried to get back into the arena after Ray Allen’s killer game-tying three kept the Heat alive in a series it would go on to win?

LeBron’s reportedly off to Brazil, to watch the World Cup final. Over the next few days, he’ll let the fans and pundits back home dissect this momentous move. He’s already written his piece. Millions of captivated hoops fans will be watching, over the next few seasons, to see how the story ends.

TIME Basketball

LeBron James’ Dangerous Liaison With Cleveland

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
LeBron James of the Miami Heat during Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. The Heat lost the game -- and the series Andy Lyons—Getty Images

If the superstar free agent jilts the Cavs again, will he destroy his post-"Decision" goodwill?

Remember four years ago? When pretty much everyone hated LeBron James for making a spectacle of his free agency, for ditching his championship-starved home city of Cleveland — actually, James is from Akron, but close enough — for the South Beach sun? In Cleveland, they were burning jerseys and tearing down that ten-story mural of him. And people across the country sympathized with those poor Cleveland fans. Everyone could relate. Who hasn’t gotten their hearts broken?

The masses delighted when James faltered in the 2011 Finals, when Dallas beat the Heat in six games, and when James delivered this tone-deaf stinger of a post-game quote:

“All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”

Really? He just doesn’t get it, does he?

Those times seem pretty distant, as James started winning championships, and drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan. He matured, played with more joie de vivre, and developed a post-up game. He expressed regret about how the “Decision” played out. Even after a rough loss to the San Antonio Spurs in this year’s NBA finals, James is still the best player in basketball, and one of the most popular athletes on the planet. He’s earned the max-contract he will receive during this free-agency go-round.

But could he really be flirting with a return to Cleveland? Even after the Cavs owner Dan Gilbert tore him apart — in a laughable open letter — as LeBron made his exit? Even after the Cavs have stunk since he left the team? According to Yahoo! Sports, James’ agent, Rich Paul, “has been funneling belief into the organization that the Cavaliers are in a strong position to lure James from the Miami Heat.” Getting James back in a Cavs uniform, says Yahoo!, “has been something of a mission” for Paul. Twitter went a bit berserk when veteran LeBron-watcher Chris Broussard, of ESPN, tweeted that “Cleveland has replaced Miami as my frontrunner to land LeBron James.”

Now, we’re still in the mass speculation stage of free agency — though have we added that James’ wife reportedly wants him to sign with Cleveland, and the Cavs took down Gilbert’s manifesto from their official website on Monday? James could very well sit down with Pat Riley this week and be sold that Miami will compete if the Big Three stick together (though Riley’s two free agent signings so far to support them, Josh McRoberts of the Charlotte Bobcats and Danny Granger of the Clippers, are underwhelming).

If the LeBron-to-Cleveland chatter isn’t true, he needs to squash it, now. Because the longer James actually flirts with the Cavs, the more he risks jilting Cleveland a second time if he stays in Miami or heads elsewhere. And if he jilts Cleveland, again, the move would dredge up bad memories. All the goodwill James has built over his four seasons in Miami could crumble.

Though I bet it won’t. Fans have seen that James’ decisions have been carefully considered, and have actually worked out for him. Back in 2010, they identified him as a Cleveland Cavalier. The team drafted him, made the finals with him, faltered with him. After two championships and four finals appearances, he’s a Miami guy. Leaving Cleveland the first time stung. Exploring a comeback to Cleveland, the ultimately deciding that it’s not the best move for his career — hey, that’s just business. The mad emotional tie between James and Cleveland has faded.

No matter where he suits up next season, LeBron is not the self-centered kid of 2010. He’s a two-time champion, one of the most accomplished and amazing players ever. Any respectful hoops fan will appreciate his talents, whether they’re on display in South Beach or on the shores of Lake Erie.

TIME tennis

Novak Djokovic Denies Roger Federer a (Final?) Wimbledon

Novak Djokovic kisses the trophy after defeating Roger Federer in the men's singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, on July 6, 2014
Novak Djokovic kisses the trophy after defeating Roger Federer in the men's singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, on July 6, 2014 Ben Curtis—AP

The Serbian star played just enough defense to win his second Wimbledon title and regain the world's top ranking

Roger Federer had one of the best service sets of his beautiful career during Sunday’s Wimbledon final. He was tied a set a piece with Novak Djokovic, the top seed of this year’s tournament. On serve, Federer treated Djokovic like a junior: he aced him again and again, 13 in all, to Djokovic’s one. Some games were barely competitive.

Federer still lost that set. And eventually, the match.

A locked-in Djokovic held his own serves in that crucial third set, and took the tiebreaker that put him a set up. Federer, who was seeking a record eighth Wimbledon title, wouldn’t go quietly; he staved off a 5-2 Djokovic lead and a championship point, in a dizzying fourth set to force a fifth. It was the first Wimbledon final to go the distance since Federer won his 2009 classic over Andy Roddick (final score of that fifth set — 16-14).

Djokovic, circa 2008, likely would have wilted after blowing such a golden opportunity. And Federer, as we once knew him, would have finished Djokovic off. But this is a new era: Djokovic reclaimed the world’s top ranking with his close-to-classic 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-4 victory over Federer.

The match won’t be remembered like Rafael Nadal’s marathon win over Federer in the 2008 final. Still, it was a gripping match, one of the best finals in recent Grand Slam history. Early on, Federer wasn’t showing his age. He was moving with authority and confusing Djokovic with his tactical approach, sometimes playing a serve-and-volley game, sometimes staying home on the baseline, where his racket was a magic wand putting the ball in at seemingly impossible angles. We’ve seen that Federer at Wimbledon so many times before.

Not that Djokovic didn’t make Federer pay when he approached the net: he hit 14 passing shots for winners, to Federer’s two. Federer served big throughout the match: he had 29 aces, to Djokovic’s 13. But when the ball was in play, Djokovic’s reach and quickness — he hustled so hard, he fell a few times on Wimbledon’s worn grass — enabled him to play just enough defense to wear down Federer, who smacked championship point into the net.

Was this Federer’s last chance at a Slam? He turns 33 in August, and if he was going to steal one more title, it was probably going to be his favorite one, Wimbledon. Federer has 17 Slams, while Rafael Nadal, five years his junior, has 14, including nine at the French Open. Even if Nadal falls short everywhere else but clay, he could eclipse Federer’s record.

But that won’t be easy, thanks to this Djokovic fellow. It’s easy to obsess over the Roger-Rafa title chase, while forgetting that Djokovic is, you know, the best player in the world. Since his monster 2011, when he won every Slam but the French, Djokovic has just won two Australian Opens. Not a bad haul, but coming into this match, he had lost three straight Grand Slam finals, including a four-setter to Nadal in this year’s French. Djokovic is close to breaking through at Roland Garros — winning that title would give him a career Grand Slam.

After the match, an emotional Djokovic announced that he was about to become a father; his future wife is six months pregnant. He called Wimbledon “the best tournament in the world, the most valuable one” and you know something, he’s right: it’s the Masters of tennis, the tournament with the most prestige. His second Wimbledon title is his sweetest, especially after defeating the seven-time champ in five sets. Federer stood by the net, gracious, as Djokovic spoke. The closest, perhaps, he’ll ever get to the Wimbledon trophy again.


Kidd v. Wade: The NBA Sees Two Very Different Power Plays

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The NBA is simmering with off-season storylines. While Dwyane Wade is sacrificing for the Heat, Jason Kidd gets selfish in Brooklyn.

When Miami’s Big Three came together, they were ripe for ridicule, easy to dislike. Two championships later, and the day before this year’s intriguing NBA summer of free agency begins, the Miami stars are acting like the grown-ups in the room. The trio, as a group, seem willing to take a substantial pay cut in order to free up salary cap space for Miami, so the team can continue to add role players and win the Eastern Conference, which it has done four years in a row. Why else would Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade, each leave some $42 million on the table by opting out of their contracts with two years left? Odds are, they’re working in concert with LeBron James to return to Miami, at a lower annual salary.

For athletes who have made heaps of money over their careers, it might seem silly to applaud them for shaving off a million here and there. But hey, no matter how rich you are, every extra million means something: for you, your kids, your kids’ kids, your charities. LeBron James, who also opted out of his deal with two seasons to go, is going to get a maximum contract, which will pay him around $22.2 million next season. Bosh could likely recoup his $42.7 million, and then some, on the open market, but his opt-out signals a return to the Heat at some discount.

The real standout here, however, is Wade. He’s no longer the player he once was, and apparently knows it. Wade, 32, has a history of knee injuries, and is coming off a poor performance in the Finals. No team on the open market will pay him $20.2 million next year, and $21.7 million in 2015-2016. Some team could conceivably offer him that $42 million, and a little more, over the next four years. But if Wade wanted to truly maximize his earnings, he’d play out the next two years at a salary that his performance no longer justifies, then, if he’s still healthy, sign one more lucrative long-term deal, or a series of shorter deals, as his career plays out. But he’s chosen not to.

Most likely, he’ll come back to Miami at a significantly lower annual salary. Maybe Miami gives him that $42 million, plus some more, over five years, as a token of appreciation. But Wade’s annual salary cut, combined with James’ max deal and Bosh’s reduced wage, gives the Heat the best chance to add players and compete.

While Wade is sacrificing, a player known for his unselfish play, former point guard Jason Kidd, got very greedy. Kidd tried a coup in Brooklyn, the franchise that, just a year ago, took a flier on him as head coach, even though he just retired as a player and had no experience. So much for loyalty. Kidd was handed a team with the highest payroll in the league, and his performance was, well, somewhat promising. His team started out 10-21. To help show him his way around a clipboard, Kidd brought in a former coach with the Nets, Lawrence Frank, as the league’s highest-paid assistant. He then promptly demoted Frank to the league’s highest-paid writer of internal “daily reports” that the head coach almost certainly doesn’t read. Kidd also dumped Diet Coke onto the court after one of his players “accidentally” bumped into him, forcing a timeout, apparently forgetting that NBA games are televised and can easily catch him in the act. The sloppy gamesmanship cost Kidd $50,000.

To Kidd’s credit, however, the Nets turned their season around, finishing 44-38 and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in seven years (Miami bumped them out). But no way does that result justify his power play. Kidd told the Nets he also wanted full control of basketball operations, usurping general manager Billy King, a man who was instrumental in his hiring. The Nets told one of the top players in the history of their franchise to take a walk: he’s now heading to Milwaukee, where he likely will receive a better deal than the four-year, $10.5 million pact that he signed with Brooklyn. Larry Drew is out as head coach, and Kidd’s in. Kidd does not have full control of personnel in Milwaukee — yet. Milwaukee has new owners, and Kidd is chummy with one of them, billionaire hedge fund investor Marc Lasry. As compensation, the Nets get two future second round draft picks from Milwaukee, in 2015 and 2019.

The Nets are probably better off with those picks, and a new coach, than they were with Kidd. The ex-point guard might have dished out over 12,000 assists during his 19-year playing career, good for second all-time. But down in Miami, Wade’s kind of assist is more impressive than any of them.


4 Ways LeBron James Could Go

Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - Game Five
LeBron James drives in Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals in San Antonio, Texas. The Heat lost the game, and the series Chris Covatta—Getty Images

He's got options after opting out of his contract

LeBron’s opting out of his contract! Oh my, it’s 2010 all over again, another free agent frenzy! He’s leaving the Heat! He’s coming back to Cleveland! The Decision, Part II!

Let’s all relax. LeBron James has indeed exercised his right to opt out of the last two years of his current contract with the Miami Heat, a deal that would have paid him almost $43 million combined. But this move is less a surefire sign that he’s leaving Miami than it is a prudent business decision by the best player on the planet—by a guy who is more mature, on and off the court, than he was during his free agent carnival four years ago. James has won two championships and reached four straight NBA Finals, since signing with Miami in 2010. He knows it’s not all about him. “It would be really shocking if this is as much of a production as last time,” says Tom Penn, an NBA salary-cap expert and former vice president of basketball operations for the Portland Trail Blazers, who now provides commentary for ESPN. “He’s going to keep it more low profile.”

This isn’t to say LeBron won’t enjoy a little wining and dining from suitors. The move gives James, 29, what every working American wants: some options to shape his future. “But nothing is simple,” says one NBA executive. Remember, this isn’t baseball: Player salaries are capped, so a team can’t come in and offer James a gazillion dollars to be the face of their franchise. And team salaries are capped, too. Unlike the NFL, hoops teams can exceed their allotted cap. But the further above that number they go, the more penalties they have to pay.

Here are some of the feasible options LeBron will be looking at this summer.

1. Stay in South Beach. He took his talents there, he’s been wildly successful there, he seems happy there. Why the heck would he leave? “The big question for Miami,” says Penn, “is whether the Big Three are still all in to win.” Miami can give James a five-year deal, max, while other teams can only offer four. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can also opt out of their deals, which are eating up valuable salary cap space for Miami the next two seasons. Would the Big Three each be willing to take enough of a pay cut so that Miami can retool their roster to add better role players? They each already took less money to form the Big Three back in 2010; would they be that charitable again?

James, if anything, deserves a raise. “I would be surprised if he accepts less money to stay in Miami,” says the NBA executive. “For him, he’s already been there, done that with the discounts.” It may be up to Wade and Bosh to take the financial hit. Bosh, 30, is owed $20.6 million next season, but he’s no longer a $20 million per year player. Wade is owed $20.2 million, and with his knee problems and poor performance in the Finals, it’s clear the 32-year-old isn’t aging gracefully.

So the superstars have some talking to do. But don’t be shocked if James accepts a below-market salary to stay. He more than makes up for any shortfall in endorsements: He pulled in $53 million in off-court cash this past year, according to Forbes. Miami likely gives James the safest shot at more championships.

2. Chicago Fire. One team that won’t have to move mountains to afford LeBron is the Bulls. The team annually overachieves: Franchise star Derrick Rose has missed most of the last two seasons, but the Bulls have still finished comfortably above .500, made the playoffs each season, and are always a pain to play, thanks in large part to the intense defensive preachings of coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose, James, and reigning defensive player of the year Joakim Noah: That’s a nice Big Three.

The cons of going to Chicago: Rose’s health will always been a question, thanks to his history of nasty knee injuries. As for quality of life, Chicago is nice in the spring, summer, and fall, but there’s no comparing Chicago winters to Miami winters.

3. Houston, We Have No Problem. Houston is an attractive landing spot for LeBron. It’ll be a little harder for the Rockets to afford James, says Penn, as they’d likely have to move players they’re fond of, like Jeremy Lin and big man Omer Asik. But come on, this is LeBron James we’re talking about here. He could play with Dwight Howard and James Harden, a prolific scorer. Rockets sharpshooter Chandler Parsons is an emerging star. Plus, like Florida, Texas has no state income tax.

The cons of going to Houston: Remember the Dwight Howard-Kobe Bryant-Steve Nash-Pau Gasol superteam in Los Angeles? How did that horror show work out? Howard made some positive strides last season, his first with the Rockets. But he has a history of being a distraction. Will LeBron bet his championship legacy on him?

4. Cleveland Calling. Ah, the fairy tale ending. James breaks his hometown’s heart by leaving, but then returns—two titles already in tow—to end Cleveland’s 50-year championshiop drought. Five thousand books are written about how Cleveland’s curse is lifted, how so many suffering sports fans can rest in peace, what it all says about the city and the Rust Belt and the American spirit itself.

Cleveland cons: Where to begin? Cleveland has had the worst record in the NBA since James left. The team has won the draft lottery three of the past four seasons. Kyrie Irving, the 2011 pick, is terrific, while Anthony Bennett, last year’s stop selection, had a rough rookie season. He might be a bust. The Cavs own the top pick this year, too, but the June 26 draft is now real cloudy: Many experts pegged Joel Embiid, an athletic, defensive-minded seven-footer from the University of Kansas, as the top selection, but his foot fracture is scaring off teams. Even James may not be able to rescue the Cavs, although a watered-down Eastern conference could open a door to the Finals.

The bigger issue for Cleveland, however, is probably the owner: Remember, Dan Gilbert blasted James as he walked out the door. (The most hilarious claim—in all-caps no less—in his infamous open letter: “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE. You can take it to the bank.”) James is going to play for this guy again?

If you’re betting, says Penn, put your chips on James staying in Miami. “He has a clear comfort level with [Heat president] Pat Riley and [Heat coach] Erik Spoelstra and the city,” says Penn. “The sting of losing in the Finals is still present, but they reality is, moving forward, Miami should still be really, really good.”

TIME tennis

4 Things to Watch for at This Year’s Wimbledon

Including a return to the Roger-Rafa rivalry, and Serena's struggles

We know you might be addicted to the World Cup, and who can blame you? It’s been pretty amazing. But if your brain can digest two events showcasing some of the greatest athletes from around the globe, don’t forget about Wimbledon, which starts on Monday. This year’s fortnight should be special. Here are four reasons why:

1. The Roger-Rafa Slam Chase. If Roger Federer is going to win a record 18th Grand Slam — and put a little more distance between him and Rafael Nadal, who has 14 titles, and is five years younger than his longtime rival — odds are the victory will come at Wimbledon. Federer has won seven championships at the British tournament, and his last Grand Slam title came on the Wimbledon grass, when he beat Andy Murray in the 2012 final. Federer won his grass-court tune-up in Halle, Germany, this year; counting him out would be pure folly.

Nadal, on the other hand, has recently had a hellish time on grass. He lost in the first round of that same Wimbledon tune-up. Last year, he fell in the first round at Wimbledon, and in 2012, he was beaten in the second round — and then was sidelined for seven months because of a bum knee. But Nadal tends to surprise. He had the worst clay-court season of his career this year and still took the French Open.

The two-time Wimbledon champ could meet Federer in the semifinals. There might be some hype around that match.

2. Not-So-Dandy Andy. Last year, Andy Murray — of Scotland — ended Great Britain’s tortuous Wimbledon drought, as he became the first British man to win the fortnight in 77 years. He entered that tournament on a bit of a high: he had won the previous year’s Olympic event on the Wimbledon grass, the U.S. Open a few months later, the Miami hard-court tournament in March 2013 and the Queen’s Club Wimbledon tune-up.

But Murray not only hasn’t won a single tournament since last year’s Wimbledon, he hasn’t even reached a final. Murray had back surgery nine months ago and split with his coach, Ivan Lendl, in March; Amélie Mauresmo, the 2006 women’s Wimbledon champ, is his new coach. Will Mauresmo be able to lift Murray’s game and give Great Britain something to cheer about? After England’s World Cup flameout, many fans could use a lift. Top-seeded Novak Djokovic, however, is in Murray’s half of the draw.

3. Sharapova Surging. Ten years ago, Russian teenager Maria Sharapova stunned the globe when she beat Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final, denying Williams a third straight title. Since that breakout event when she was 17, Sharapova has won four more Grand Slams, including the French Open a few weeks ago. Williams was the last woman to win the French and Wimbledon titles in the same year, in 2002. Sharapova hasn’t lifted the Wimbledon trophy since her breakout win a decade ago, and she faces a potential quarterfinal clash against Williams, who owns a 16-2 career record against her rival — though when you dominate an opponent like Williams has dominated Sharapova, can it really be called a rivalry?

4. Serena’s Struggles. The good news for Sharapova: Williams has had a frustrating year. Although she won the hard-court tournament in Miami in March and won on clay in Rome in May, she also lost in the round of 16 at the Australian Open, and made a shock exit in the second round of the French Open, at the hands of Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain. Williams also pulled out of the Madrid tournament in the quarterfinals with a thigh injury. The Wimbledon draw has done Williams, who has won five titles on the west London courts, no favors. When Serena gets written off, however, she tends to dominate. A sixth Wimbledon could be her sweetest.

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