One move most difficult to fathom

It’s hard to believe in today’s context, but, when Roy Keane left Nottingham for Manchester, the £3.75m Brian Clough et al acquired for the transaction was a record. Sometimes, there’s a temptation to ponder how people’s perception of the double-jobbing assistant coach has, among large percentages, shifted seismically since the days of Saipan.

Everything about Keane has, in some form or other, thereafter, been shaped by what transpired in the Far East. Look objectively at the man – if that’s possible – and, at least, he surely merits acknowledgement as one of the finest exponents of his profession this country has thus far produced.

Those vexed by and still inclined to hark on about what took place over a dozen years ago profess bewilderment as to why anybody would want anything to do with him. Strip away the off field stuff though and it’s not that difficult to decipher why those who have done so moved to bring him aboard.

In another part of the sporting world, LeBron James probably holds a similar sort of profile to Keane. For two reasons, everything about the guy is box office, and, there appears to be no middle ground in judgement of him either. You’re either a devout fan of or abhorrent towards him.

Again, James surely stands out as one of the best basketball players many have seen. Certainly the figurehead of the current generation. Say what you will about how the Miami Heat only took on the look of Galacticos when James was part of a triumvirate with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, their ability to be a force will surely have been blunted by his loss.

The aura around the Heat had certainly began to slip last season. But still, an elongated period of time competing at the highest level is bound to do that to any team. Even allowing for that, however, James’s decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers is one move most difficult to fathom. Up there with Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao going to Manchester United in their current state.

Sentimentality would lean one towards applauding James for returning whence he came. Gut feeling would differ, mind you. Had he opted for the likes of the Chicago Bulls or the LA Clippers or the Oklahoma City Thunder – outfits with realistic aspirations of attaining outright glory – his curious decision to leave Heat may have appeared less so.

Now, hearing one commentator label James “Past it” after the first instalment of an 80-plus game season was utterly daft, there’s little doubt he could be in for more of a more laborious toil with one of the league’s lesser lights – to put it mildly – than he has been used to for most of his career.

Then again, the build up to and early stages of the current NBA season has been dominated by strange goings on regarding what in other sports would be termed transfers. In any big sporting setting, there are going to be dominant personalities and egos which need a certain amount of looking after. However, assertions that the LA Lakers – to some degree at least – got hard to sign players due to the presence and/or influence of Kobe Bryant appears as hard to credit as talk of James being in decline.

Bryant and James have been the two iconic figures on the courts for a long time. Like many rivals, they may not exactly be best buddies. However, it’s hardly coincidence that the fortunes of the Lakers declined considerably when shorn of Bryant’s influence – and that of Steve Nash – for long stretches.

It now appears doubtful that Nash will ever make it back. However, even though the Lakers have – at the time of typing – still to get off the mark, with Bryant back in tow and still evidently capable of performing efficiently, and others such as Ryan Kelly and Xavier Henry and the much travelled but nonetheless talented Jeremy Lin at their disposal, the Lakers can still be a force.

Going back to school days I’ve always been a basketball fan. That said, since the opportunity to take in NBA action regularly arose, much flipping and flopping had been engaged in trying to decide who the team of choice were. As has often been said previously, there’d be a certain patriotic leaning towards the Boston Celtics.

The bandwagon option, for a long time, would’ve been to side with the Heat. Then, there was a brief period flirting with the notion of getting behind the New York Knicks. In the end though, it was probably a belief that Blake Griffin represents one of the rapidly rising stars within NBA – thus enabling the LA Clippers to be extremely competitive this season – that swung the verdict in their favour…for now!

Any of them may, indeed, have to hit their zenith to get to the level reached by the San Antonio Spurs. Themselves emboldened by the pain of having lost out to the Heat a couple of years ago. Welcome back NBA, the winter nights just feel a tad shorter.

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