Thursday, July 8, 2010

‘The Decision” of LeBron -- breaking through new barriers of narcissism, aided by his sycophants

I really didn’t want to touch LeBron James or the NBA free agency circus again until it was over and it was possible to write about where the players had landed and how that might change the landscape of the league.

But the whole thing is so comically out of control at this point it can’t be ignored. The last week has been an embarrassment to just about everyone involved and it will reach a crescendo of Saturday Night Live parody tonight during the one hour “special,” which is apparently being called, “The Decision.”

When President Obama makes a decision on what to do next in Afghanistan that will be worthy of capital letters and an hour of TV time. This is a basketball player, one who has won zero championships up until this moment, finally getting around to telling people where he’s going to play basketball the next few years.

Please-PLEASE—do not tell me for one second that any of this is excusable because James and company are going to throw a few dollars at Boys and Girls Clubs. He can write that check any day he wants to and ask Nike to match it and not put everyone through this ridiculous sideshow tonight. One funny note: Apparently ESPN, embarrassed by the notion that the first half of the show would be some kind of tribute to LeBron, has insisted the announcement come in the first 10 minutes. I would love to see what happens to the ratings during those last 50 minutes. Do you think anyone other than people in the city James decides to anoint are going to want to stick around to hear Stuart Scott lob softballs at him?

“LeBron, my man, just how tough has the last month been for you and your family?”

Of course ESPN isn’t the only guilty party in all this by a long shot. James has always had the classic star athlete’s massive ego, that’s hardly a scoop or a surprise, especially given the way he’s been treated since high school. I still remember the first time I saw him in person. It was at one of those high school all-star camps in New Jersey and even then he had an entourage worthy of Andre Agassi at his best/worst. Even then ESPN was already trying to make him into a marketable, larger-than-life star, putting his high school games on TV to cash in a little bit on his teen-age mystique but also to align itself with him since he was probably going to be a big star in the NBA.

Which he has been. At his best, the guy is absolutely brilliant. But because of the over-marketing and hype of the 21st century he has been built into more than he is. Yesterday, Mike Gastineau, one of the smart guys in sportstalk radio started a question by saying to me, “If the city of Cleveland loses the greatest player of all time…”

“STOP!” I screamed. “STOP!”

“Okay,” Mike said, “maybe he’ll BECOME the greatest player of all-time.”

“STOP!” I screamed again.

You see I’m not prepared to declare James the greatest player in the game NOW. Until James starts winning championships, Kobe Bryant has that title. I’m not 100 percent sure that, when healthy, Dwyane Wade isn’t at least in the conversation for number two. That’s an argument for another day as is the fact that James isn’t close to Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson right now. Don’t talk to me about skills or dunks, talk to me about making plays that win big games. Big games, for the record, don’t take place in February. Hey, when it really matters, I’d take Walt Frazier or Jerry West over James in a heartbeat. Julius Erving wasn’t bad either.

Of course that may change. He may grow into a champion. Jordan didn’t win a title until his seventh season and ended up with six.

For now though the issue is what we’ve had to watch for the past week. Forget the now ONE MILLION times we have heard the words, “From what I’m hearing James is…” Heck, before this is over he may announce he’s going to play for Cleveland STATE. He’s got eligibility left.

Honestly, I do not care where he plays. Unless he goes to Miami, I don’t think any of the teams he might play for next year will be better than the Lakers or for that matter the Celtics (if healthy) or the Magic. If I’m wrong, fine, good for James and his teammates—although my sense is if and when a James-led team does win a title it will be all about LeBron. Apparently that’s his view of the world.

We’re all guilty. Someone asked the other day if I was so sick of the LeBron hype why did I keep writing about him? Because, sadly, it’s a story, just like the whole tawdry Tiger Woods affair (the whole thing not the individual affairs) is a story. I like to go off the beaten path as much as anyone and more than most. But when people are asking you about something on a minute-to-minute basis and you can’t escape it whenever you turn on TV, radio, the internet or pick up a newspaper, you sort of have to write and/or talk about it.

But let’s understand what the story is: It’s the story of an athlete who, even by today’s standards, is breaking through new barriers of narcissism, aided by his sycophants (ESPN included); the media, the public and an NBA system that has always been about stars not about teams for as long as David Stern has run the league.

There’s an old saying that the truly great players care first about the name on the front of their uniform not the one on the back. It may well be that James will turn out to be that way next season: Part of his deal may be to put, “LeBron,” on the front of his new uniform.


Anonymous said...

So, if all the reports of LeBron to Miami ring true, I assume David Stern is now re-writing the TV contracts to allow Miami on national TV more than the max, right?

Like you said, this whole thing is a SNL parody.

I will have to say this though - LeBron will now have to be like Magic, not Michael. Wade will be the scorer, LeBron the playmaker.

Anonymous said...

More important topics:

1) What are your observations of Dean Smith's health since beginning work on the book? Story in Fayetteville Observer about Coach's struggles with memory.

2) Goydos - 59.

Anonymous said...

I agree with about "ZERO" that Mr. Feinstein writes. He is absolutely dead wrong on most Sports Topics. In this case 100% right.

This Lebron James fiasco is stomach turning on so many levels. It really make my skin boil over. ESPN cannot be viewed as credible News worthy organization... and it does a very poor job of Entertaining the masses.

I refuse to watch tonight.. King James..I say more like Court Jester james.. little j.

And Mr. Feinstein don't waste your talents in writing about this farce. Stick to bashing Tiger Woods and your bromance with Goydos, Williams, Ernie and the like. Lebron james is a complete joke. I wish someone would knock those Silly Dark glasses of his face..what a punk!

charles pierce said...

John --
Stop. Please. I beg you.
If you can't see what this is -- the funniest damn thing on television since MST3K went off the air, I feel sorry for you.

Paul said...


When are we going to stop blaming the sports stars and media outlets like ESPN for the disgraceful displays like the one put on tonight? If there is one thing I'm more sick of than the spectacle of these athletes and the media fawning all over them, it's whiners (sorry John) that complain about the behavior of these entities. Does anyone know simple economics? Supply and demand? The fact that a player is granted a one hour special to announce where he is going to sign a free agent contract is not his fault nor is it ESPN's fault. It is the sports consuming public's fault. If they stop allowing sports to dominate every single second of their lives, get a handle on reality, and do something more than give into the talk about Lebron's destination, guess what? ESPN would give it no more than the five minutes it deserves. It's like the media has created this frenzy and we are helpless to defend ourselves against it. Our consuming decisions create the demand that is exploited by companies like ESPN (though I am aware there is an arugument that corporations do CREATE false demand). Either way, when we switch the channel to that show, we are signaling ESPN that we want them to continue to show this type of programming.

It is amazing how many people are pissed off that this show was being aired, and yet it is even more amazing that we are suprised that ESPN will wring every last dollar from TV ratings generated by the viewing public's consumption decisions. Oh I can see it now, the meeting where the heads of a major profit-maximizing organization are sitting around the decision table and this is the conversation:

Programming VP: Sir, we can make a profit of $4 million (a made up figure) if we air this program. Here are the charts that show how it will out distance the other programs we could air at that time.

CEO: You know what, you had better not do that. It's a sickening exploitation of the sports consumer and I really don't think we should do that. Come up with another recommendation by noon tomorrow.

Sound ridiculous? Well it is. Yet everytime someone complains about ESPN airing a program like Lebron's decision or making the NFL Draft a prime time show, they expect corporate executives to act exactly as they do in the conversation above.

Are we honestly going to be upset with a PROFIT-MAXIMIZING corporation like ESPN for trying to squeeze out every last cent from its customers? COME ON! Its SOLE PURPOSE is to generate profit. Nothing else. It doesn't do so if we the viewing public does not watch their programs. What, do we really think ESPN executives sit there and try to make us look like idiots just for their own mere pleasure?

We the sports consuming public are to blame for the program that aired tonight, not Lebron, ESPN, or anyone else associated with putting on this disgraceful spectacle. We are mad at ourselves because we constantly give in and watch this garbage due to our hopless addiction to professional sports.

To be mad at any athlete for not being "grounded" after he has had an entourage since the age of 16, or to be upset that he acts arrogant and privelaged when he makes more money in one night that some of us will make our entire lives is just plain stupidity. How do we expect them to act? This does not mean that rich athletes who are grounded and down to earth do not exist, but the fact that many do really should not be a surprise to us.

It is time the sports consumers of this country start looking in the mirror when they complain about players being arrogant and narcissistic, teams exploiting their dedication, or media outlets putting out programs like the embarrassment put on tonight.

It's OK to be mad about these things, just make sure you direct that anger at the right target

Gabriel said...

Amen, Paul. I guess I've never really considered ESPN a news organization and therefore I'm not really bothered by the ridiculous self importance. I think the sports journalists need to remember that sports news is fundamentally entertainement news. ESPN is basically the E network for sports fans.
There are times when sports can actually make real news, and at those times real journalism may be called for, but LeBron James going to the Heat is about equal to Sandra Bullock's husband stepping out in terms of real news.
ESPN is junk food for the soul anyway, so why not add more sugar.