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LeBron James spectacle discomforting in so many ways

July 8, 2010 |  9:47 pm


LeBron James's hour-long special announcement predictably became the spectacle no one wanted to see even if people remained glued to their television. Even amid a scene where James chose the Miami Heat over the Cleveland Cavaliers, presumably for less money and better hopes to win a championship, the forum represented the narcissism, ego and entitlement that unfortunately defines professional sports. And with ESPN enabling all of this to happen doesn't surprise any of us even if it still disappoints us.

The Times' Mark Heisler gave a fair shake on the situation in today's paper, making it clear James has the right to take his time in deciding which team he wants to play for while also faulting him for going through this process in an hour-long special. The Times' Scott Collins and Joe Flint also rightfully questioned ESPN's journalistic integrity in airing a one-hour special highlighting James' announcement, allowing him to control the terms of the show and justifying it, as Collins and Flint reported, because an undisclosed amount of the sponsorship proceeds would go to the Boys & Girls Club of America.

And when it came time for the "The Decision" to air, all our preconceived notions unfortunately played out in the most egregious ways. The night started off annoyingly enough with anchor Stuart Scott proclaiming, "LeBron James,the most prized free agent in NBA history, will make an announcement that will impact the league for years to come," soon followed with an anonymous voiceover saying, "with breathless anticipation, the basketball world has been waiting. The courtship of a franchise-saving superstar has come to a close."

But not quite. Despite various reports indicating James would share his decision within the first 10 minutes of the one-hour special, that didn't happen until 27 minutes into the show. Up until that point, we witnessed constant examples that show how ESPN continuously bastardizes journalism for the sake of self-promotion. Scott reiterated over and over again the long-term significance James' decision will make on the league. NBA reporter Chris Broussard kept with his hunch that James would go with Miami, as indicated by his sources, but allowed himself enough wiggle room to say it's plausible for James to change his mind at the last minute and go with Chicago, Cleveland  or New York. And you heard all the analysts constantly assess how James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would play together with the Heat as if we hadn't heard their take the first time.

It continued even once ESPN finally switched over to reporter Jim Gray interviewing James on set. Instead of starting with the obvious question: "LeBron, which team will you play for?," it took 16 questions before Gray asked the one as he termed it, "the answer to the question everybody wants to know." He filibustered beforehand with questions that were perhaps insightful, but they served to cynically build up the anticipation and keep the audience on the edge of their seat. The nonsense continued when Gray and all the on-set analysts thanked James for his time even though he is the one that dictated the terms for the entire show. It remained prevalent when James was offered congratulations for making a decision. And it became worse when he was questioned about any of the negative reaction, most notably Cleveland fans burning his jersey, with an apologetic tone as if fan frustration was unjustified and James was put in an unwinnable situation.

The reality is that ESPN and James put themselves in an unwinnable situation. This news should've only been announced in a press release with a follow-up news conference. Instead the program featured a charade of mindless self-promotion, endless analysis and hyping up a player who has won zero rings. Even amid the long buildup toward his free agency, James had every justifiable right to take his time with his decision and ultimately decide to leave Cleveland, and his body language surely suggested the process wasn't easy. But he made a whole mockery of the ordeal by doing it in this format.

--Mark Medina

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Photo: LeBron James, left, talks with his publicist Keith Estabrook during an afternoon workout at the LeBron James Skills Academy on Tuesday. James met with representatives from six NBA teams last week and revealed Thursday that he will play with the Miami Heat. Credit: Chuck Crow / Associated Press.