Vai's View: Jimmer and Jazz could net perfect match

I had an interesting conversation with two NBA GMs this week about Jimmer Fredette following the rookie combine in Chicago last weekend. One told me Jimmer will be a scorer in the NBA because of his unique range, will likely play point guard at the next level, and in his opinion, will definitely be a lottery pick.

As for his defensive liabilities, the other GM told me most of his colleagues were impressed with Jimmer's athleticism, quickness and strength — that Jimmer is probably a better defensive player than he's been given credit for. Certainly, he has the tools to improve his defensive skills, but given his size he can still be exploited — especially if he's a two. At 6-foot-2, he's better suited to play the one than the two, just as the other GM suggested.

Of course, no one knows where he'll go or when or if he'll play the point, shooting guard, both or come off the bench.
Frankly, I want to see him go to the Jazz at 12. I admire the Millers, but I'm not a Jazz fan.

I follow the 76ers, but not because I work in Philly. I was a 76ers fan as a kid because I loved their backcourt of Maurice Cheeks at point and Andrew Toney at shooting guard, with a front court that included Julius "Doctor J" Erving at small forward and Moses Malone at center. My favorite player was Toney, because he tortured the Celtics — my least favorite team — earning the nickname, "The Boston Strangler."

I have a different reason for wanting to see Jimmer stay in Utah, and it has nothing to do with Jimmermania helping ticket sales or whether he can replace Deron Williams as the team's next great point guard.

Utah will probably use their third pick on a big man, their greater need as it's likely Jimmer will still be there at 12.

The reason I'd like Jimmer to remain in Utah is simple: he's still single. I'm told he's in a serious relationship with a BYU co-ed who will be a cheerleader next year. Good for him.

All of us who are LDS and played professional sports understand the challenges he'll face. If you're married, the transition is much easier to the jet-set life of a seven-figure salary, first-class travel, five-star hotels, team security by former FBI agents and unscrupulous women who await in lobbies, restaurants and stadiums.
If you're single, it's a treacherous minefield. Jimmer may have gotten a glimpse of it this year as the national player of the year, but the NBA life will be an entirely different thing. Unlike politics, professional sports forces you to declare and define your faith. A locker room full of type-A alpha-males WILL NOT allow room for wavering. Do you go to strip clubs with the guys or go home? Do you go to bars for beers with the fellas or go wander the mall? Do you succumb to women who throw themselves at you or go to the Institute building and play ping-pong?
If you're married, you always have someone to go home to, but if you're an LDS single trying to stay worthy, well, it's easy to feel lonely — even in the Big Apple or in Beantown, where everyone knows your name.

Personally, I never quite understood how an LDS athlete at a Utah school — BYU, Utah, Weber State, Utah State or SUU — can leave for the pros without a wife at his side. I mean, who has more opportunities to date marriage-eligible, temple-worthy college co-eds than a jock? Seriously. If a knucklehead like me could do it ...

Of course, no one should feel sorry for Jimmer. Most people would trade places with him in a New York minute.

Perhaps the most notable of the LDS athletes to enter professional sports as a bachelor was Steve Young. Dale Murphy was a 19-year-old convert, nonetheless, found himself a young single adult in pro baseball.

What Steve and Dale had in common besides their movie-star looks, priesthood worthiness and unlimited earning power, was they both returned to Provo in the off-season.

Both took classes at BYU — Steve as a law student and Dale as an undergraduate — while looking for Mrs. Right.

The city where you play may have a strong YSA program or local colleges with Institute programs, but none of them match the pool of eligible young women available in Utah. Hence, many of the LDS bachelor pros continue to return to Utah. Some, didn't even play college ball in Utah schools.

Jimmer could go to Milwaukee at 10 or Phoenix at 13, if the Jazz pass on him at 12. I played in both towns as a Packer and a Cardinal — there are more Saints in Phoenix so more YSA wards, and there is a vibrant Institute at ASU. But neither Milwaukee nor Phoenix have as many YSAs as Utah.

I've come across scores of handsome, wealthy, smart and, of course, athletic LDS members, just here in Philadelphia — current Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley and former Eagles receiver and returned missionary Kevin Curtis among them. Shawn Bradley was single when he was drafted by the Sixers in the early '90s, but he found his wife in a singles' ward in Philly. Bryan Kehl was a bachelor in New York when he arrived as a rookie and while he played with the Giants. He found his eternal companion and is now married.

Former NBA player Mark Madsen, former NFL player/analyst Trevor Matich, Denver Broncos lineman Shawn Murphy, Rockies pitcher Matt Lindstrom, Washington Redskin DL Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Oakland Raider David Nixon and recent Eagles draftee Stanley Havili are just some of the LDS pros who were single when they left college. I know some but not all of them, so if any have since married, it hasn't been long.
Once you leave college, it gets harder, not easier to find a spouse, and it's the same if you're headed to the NBA or IBM. I've talked to dozens of single LDS pro athletes who lament their squandered opportunities while in college — especially former Cougars — to find a worthy mate.

That's why I'd like to see Jimmer get drafted by the Jazz. It would increase his chance of being a husband.


For LeBron James, NBA Fans Find It Easy to Forgive and Forget

red bottom heels
As LeBron James plays for the National Basketball Association's Eastern Conference championship and a berth in the finals, brand LeBron may finally be on its way back.
In the wake of "The Decision" -- the poorly received ESPN special last July in which Mr. James announced on live TV that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat -- the NBA superstar has quietly worked to repair his image, to the point where his No. 6 ended up as the league's best-selling jersey this year.

On Sunday, the largest audience in the history of NBA cable TV broadcasts watched Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between Mr. James' Heat and the Chicago Bulls. Chicago leads the best-of-seven series 1-0 heading into tonight's Game 2.

That might not seem like much, but "it's a very good indication that he survived 'The Decision' debacle," said sports marketing expert Robert Tuchman.

"Most fans have memories like placekickers; they move on and forget prior gaffes," said David Carter, principal of the Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group and executive director of the University of Southern California Sports Business Institute. "The passage of time, and winning, certainly have helped him."

Ironically, Mr. James has done it by mostly keeping a low profile this season. While he has fronted the occasional spot for his sponsors, including a new State Farm commercial that began airing last month before the playoffs started, Mr. James has worked behind the scenes.

"His focus is basketball," said Maverick Carter, Mr. James' childhood friend and the president of his marketing company, LRMR Marketing & Branding. "We've done some things here and there, and he's built his brand in different ways, but his focus is on winning a championship."

Mr. James probably doesn't need to be any more ubiquitous than he had been. He and his handlers have picked the right spots, with endorsement deals with the world's biggest shoe and apparel company (Nike), the world's biggest soft-drink company (Coca-Cola), the world's biggest quick-serve restaurant chain (McDonald's) and the biggest insurance company in the U.S. (State Farm).

"You have to define 'back,'" said Steve Rosner, president of 16W Marketing in East Rutherford, N.J. "If you're saying his brand took a hit after the way it all went down, well, it did. If you're saying he's 'back,' I think it depends on who you're talking to."

Mr. Carter has orchestrated several deals this year involving Mr. James, almost all of them under the radar with the exception of an agreement for Mr. James to endorse Audemars Piguet watches and timepieces.

The basketball star will be actively involved in a State Farm initiative titled "26 Seconds," which will use music, sports and video to keep youngsters from dropping out of high school (which they do at the nationwide rate of one every 26 seconds).

Also last month, LRMR entered into a business partnership with Fenway Sports Management, with Messrs. James and Carter acquiring an interest in the English Premier League soccer club Liverpool FC, ranked as the sixth most valuable football team in the world by Forbes magazine.louboutin heels

That's not to say Mr. James hasn't had his missteps. In the aftermath of "The Decision" came his much-discussed Nike ad "What Should I Do?", which appeared just before the season began in October. The 90-second spot from Wieden & Kennedy featured highlights of the basketball star hitting back at critics, asking: "Should I admit I made mistakes? Should I really believe I ruined my legacy? Should I tell you I am not a role model? Should I be who you want me to be? Maybe I should just disappear?"

Intended to start rehabilitating his brand, it instead infuriated most fans to the point where the spot become parodied all over the internet. Mr. James also caught flack in January for tweeting after his former Cleveland teammates lost by 55 points to the Los Angeles Lakers: "Crazy. Karma is a b----. Gets you every time. Its [sic] not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!"

The Heat also got off to a slow start and did not finish with the league's best record, as many predicted. At one point, during a five-game losing streak, coach Erik Spoelstra told the media that the players were so dejected that a couple of them were crying in the locker room. That set off an internet and social-media deluge.

In addition, Mr. James' mother, Gloria, was arrested in April for allegedly assaulting a parking lot attendant in Miami Beach, and earlier this month Mr. James offended the mental health community when his microphone picked up his whispering "That's retarded" to teammate Dwayne Wade after Mr. Wade was asked a question at a postgame press conference.

Interestingly enough, after beating the Boston Celtics last week in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Mr. James apologized to the fans of Cleveland during another postgame press conference, saying, "The way it panned out with all the friends and family and the fans back home, I apologize for the way it happened. I knew this opportunity [to join the Heat] was once in a lifetime."

Matt Moore, a columnist for CBSSports.com, wrote, "It's strange that James would be having this resurgence, even if the evidence is based on that of the casual fan. The biggest storylines of this season surrounding James are of the whole crying thing, the Heat's struggles, his mother getting arrested, and him generally making comments which make him look bad. Those are the stories that reach casual fans."

But Mr. Tuchman said most fans, except for those in Cleveland perhaps, forgive and forget.

"He is still definitely in the top few endorsers in all of sports. No doubt about it. His brand is still very strong," Mr. Tuchman said. "It's pretty impressive considering he has not even won a title yet. I could only imagine where he will be if the Heat do win the championship."