LeBron’s TV sham was re­ally a shame

Mak­ing spec­ta­cle of leav­ing Cavs didn’t en­dear him to fans

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - CEDRIC GOLDEN

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.

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