Joel Blank: It's time to appreciate LeBron for all he does off the court, too

Lebron James is making a difference. Getty Images


All the talk this week about the Astro's acquiring reliever Roberto Osuna got me thinking—why do we constantly focus on determining who the greatest of all time is in each sport? Debates rage on as experts and armchair quarterbacks believe only they can be right. Instead of worrying about who the greatest is or was on the playing field or court, why don't we focus more on who made the biggest difference and had the greatest impact off the playing surface?

When you think about all the great athletes of our generation and all the candidates for "goat" in a given sport, the majority of the elite have list of shortcomings. From the steroid era of baseball that has tarnished names like Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and Sosa—to the well documented missteps of Randy Moss and Ray Lewis well before they put they were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

What about Tom Brady and the cheating allegations he will be linked to his career forever?  Regardless of if any of it was actually true or not, he has a label of "cheater" that will follow him almost as closely as his title of GOAT. Then there is Tiger Woods and the indiscretions that set his career on a downward spiral he has never recovered from. He went from a collision course with legendary greatness to a fender bender with a fire hydrant that ended up exposing his many off the course shortcomings. It seems like every sports hero nowadays has an evil, dark side that tarnishes even the most successful of careers over the years. Just when you thought all hope was lost, along came Lebron James.

Let the record show that I was a huge Michael Jordan fan back in the day, and I still think he’s the greatest basketball player I have ever seen. For as good as I thought MJ was, off the court there was always that black cloud that hovered over him in the circumstances that led to his father's murder and the gambling debt rumors with his dad's death.

On top of that, he was always afraid to take a side or stand up for social issues or causes because of his perceived fear from a marketing perspecitve. It’s in this instance that Lebron James is everything that Michael Jordan was not. The argument for GOAT may last a lifetime, but there is no denying how great King James has been when it comes to giving his time and money, as well as taking a stance on issues that need to be addressed from a political and societal perspective.

Lebron has put his money where his mouth is and donated over 50 million dollars to causes he feels passionate about. His latest venture has him opening his own public school for at-risk kids in his home town of Akron, Ohio. He refuses to shut up and dribble, as he stands up for social injustice and voices his opinions while taking a stance on issues like social injustice and police brutality and discrimination.

He is not afraid to speak out against anyone and that includes trading verbal jabs with the President of the United States. He isn't worried about his image or any potential damage to his revenue streams or endorsements that his speaking out could cause, his sole focus is to make a difference, take a stand and be the voice for the millions who fear they will never be heard.

He stands up for citizens for their rights, fights for their equal treatment and provides resources for the underprivledged youth of today, so that they can make a difference in society tomorrow.

Make no mistake, Lebron James is one of the greatest athletes of our generation when it comes to standing up, stepping up and fighting for what's right in the world and the people that need that support the most.

It's also worth noting that he is a family man, excellent husband, father and has never been arrested or in the public eye for negative reasons. So regardless of who you think is the greatest athlete of all time, please take note, acknowledge and appreciate those like the King who are trying to make difference off the court by giving their time, money and voice to numerous worthy causes and carrying themsleves with class worthy of such a dubious distinction as the GREATEST.

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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