LeBron’s TV sham was really a shame
Making spectacle of leaving Cavs didn’t endear him to fans
It probably sounded like a good idea at first. The most coveted free agent in NBA history appearing on the most watched all-sports network in the world to announce his future plans. Let’s call it “The Decision” and give millions of television viewers a chance to witness the most anticipated uniform change since Michael Jordan went to the Washington Wizards.
LeBron and ESPN: a marketing utopia.
Or so they thought.
What ensued over one hour of our lives that we will never get back was anything but good television. The World Wide Leader dusted off Jim Gray — what, Larry King wasn’t available? — to interview King James, who made us wait for what seemed like hours before he announced he was joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on South Beach. Oh, yeah, there’s an NBA team there, too.
In a year when ESPN gave
us the excellent “30 for 30” documentary series, it set journalism back 30 years Thursday night with a spectacle more befitting of a WWE card. Embarrassing. Overdone. Underwhelming. Then came LeBron, armed with 470,000 anvils to drop on the hopes of the Cleveland populace with his choice of the Heat. In a matter of seconds, he became this generation’s version of Art Modell in the minds of many in the Buckeye State — most notably Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who stupidly called the former face of his franchise a heartless coward, a quitter and a narcissist in a scathing, open letter on the team’s website.
I had no idea that when Gilbert penned the name for his popular Fathead franchise, he was naming it after himself. Adding to the bizarre story, Gilbert then dropped the price of the LeBron Fathead from $99.99 to $17.41. Benedict Arnold was born in 1741.
Hey, Dan, maybe you should have mixed in a good night’s sleep before unloading on someone who turned your franchise from a joke — a team that averaged 26 wins per year in the five seasons before his arrival — to a title contender that averaged nearly 50 wins in his seven years on the job.
This isn’t meant to be a criticism of LeBron’s decision — NBA free agents change ZIP codes every year — but the manner in which he informed his employer and his fan base was horrible. Gilbert’s overreaction notwithstanding, James stepped over the line with this gaudy production.
He basically showed up to the prom with a hot new girlfriend, then walked up to the stage, grabbed the microphone and informed his girl of seven years that he was dumping her. This thing was more over-the-top than Stallone arm-wrestling in a movie. At least we cheered for Sly at the end of that one.
It was the perfect illustration of a superstar relishing the deluge of attention showered upon him on a national stage. And James was in his element, dropping enough third-person references to get him a recurring role opposite William Shatner on “Boston Legal.”
The only good thing to come out of “The Decision” was the Boys & Girls Clubs of America receiving a fat check at the end. It still doesn’t take away the indelible image of Cleveland’s former King taking his crown south, much to the chagrin of Cavs fans, who not only hanged him in effigy but burned his jerseys in an embarrassing display that brought to mind the day Cincinnati Bengals coach Sam Wyche chastised a hostile home crowd on the public-address system.
“You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati,” he said.
Those select fans on the streets of Cleveland did nothing to dispel the stereotypes that have dogged this city and its fragile sports psyche.
Aside from the folks in Miami, this was anything but a feel-good evening. ESPN blurred the line between journalism and fandom with a farcical special. James reaffirmed his growing reputation as a player who loves the spotlight more than he loves winning.
Gilbert took the C and the L out of class with an infantile tirade that somehow turned LeBron into a sympathetic figure.
In the end, James went to a team that will contend for championships. The sports book at the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas has already installed the Heat as the favorite to win the 2011 NBA title, just ahead of the defending champion Lakers.
True to form, James greeted his new fan base with a Twitter post: “The Road to History starts now.”
A road that hopefully won’t include any more TV specials.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert topped James with angry letter.
LeBron James made a massmedia fool of himself.