NBA’s LeBron James farce is a real danger to the Premier League
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Picture the scene. It is November 2026 and the ageless Harry Kane has just nodded in his 261st Premier League goal to break the record of Alan Shearer that had stood for so long. There are 30 minutes of a competitive top-flight game against Wrexham to go but the game clock stops as cameramen and photographers flood onto the pitch at Tottenham’s Google Arena to capture images of the great man at this great moment.
Within a few more seconds the penalty area is almost full as relatives, friends, various A-listers join in the celebrations. Salt Bae is there too. The stadium announcer points the crowd to a montage of Kane’s finest strikes on the big screens which goes on a bit because there are 261 of them. Then Shearer appears and, after Premier League commissioner Gary Neville has made a speech, presents Kane – now modelling the same hairstyle as the former Newcastle ace – with the match ball.
The other 21 players are milling around as spare parts as the microphone is passed to Kane who, to huge cheers, runs through a long list of thank yous and couldn’t-have-done-it-without-yous before rounding off his mid-match oratory by swearing.
The broadcasters have to issue an apology. This image, of course, is pure fantasy – Kane would never swear – but the individual presentation which brings the match to a screeching halt is now the strange reality of American basketball.
On Tuesday exactly this scenario played out when LeBron James broke the all-time NBA scoring record on court for the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe the NBA thought it had to outdo the NFL and the in-game balloons and fireworks which serenaded Emmitt Smith when he passed Walter Payton’s NFL rushing record.
But the mid-match on-court ceremony went on for a full 10 minutes. In the looking glass setting of the Crypto.com Arena, the point of the exercise – the team contest itself – was entirely subsumed by the coronation of King James.
This side of the Atlantic we can shake our heads at the absurdity of American sport’s star and stats fixation but it doesn’t do to be complacent. Nine of the 20 Premier League clubs are owned or part-owned by Americans including Chelsea’s Todd Boehly who has fingers in the Lakers pie.
Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke is also involved in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets. James himself holds a share in Liverpool through Fenway Sports Group. Boehly’s suggestion of a North vs South All-Star Game may be a leap too far but transatlantic cultural creep is a clear and present danger when the US influence on English football continues to grow.
For James to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s mark of 38,387 career points was a remarkable achievement – particularly for a player who was supposed to be primarily a passer. It was a record worthy of being marked in any number of ways when the game ended but not with 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The NBA claimed they would have waited until the match’s conclusion if James had broken the record in the final minute of the match with the game in the balance or in overtime but they should have done so regardless. In allowing a competitive league match to be turned into a lifetime achievement awards’ ceremony, the NBA demeaned their own product.
How did the game turn out? After all the hullabaloo, James managed just two more points as the Lakers went down by three to Oklahoma City Thunder. Not that anybody seemed to care.
Is it all over for Ben Youngs after his omission from the England squad for this weekend’s game against Italy? It doesn’t look good for the country’s most-capped player.
Youngs could be a short-term scapegoat of the Calcutta Cup defeat but at 33 the short term very soon becomes the long term. When Steve Borthwick was appointed, Youngs will have harboured concerns given he had become second choice behind Jack van Poortvliet under him at Leicester.
As the highest-profile casualty of the home loss to Scotland, those fears have been realised. Youngs has been a grand servant for England but his impact has been diminishing for some time.
If Alex Mitchell takes his chance against the Azzurri, the World Cup will suddenly look a long way away.
Of all Chelsea’s new signings Gilbert Enoka – a 57-year-old New Zealander – may prove to be the most useful. Enoka has been called in on a short-term contract to sort out the team culture at Stamford Bridge.
He did so with the All Blacks so successfully they won back-to-back World Cups. The key to his thinking was a ‘no d***heads’ policy’ which meant players who did not put the team first, whatever their talent, were booted out.
“If you can’t change the people, change the people,” was his mantra. The winds of change at Chelsea may not have blown out yet.
In the week that saw golf tearing itself apart behind closed doors at the LIV hearing, it was good to see there was one thing the entire sport could unite on – the patio paving redesign at St Andrews’ Swilcan Bridge was unplayable.
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