The LeBron James saga: When did basketball get infected by reality TV?

lebron-jamesImage Credit: Bob Luckey/Greenwich Times/AP ImagesLet’s just say up front that I am not a big basketball fan. What I am a fan of, though, is a good sports story, and this past week has provided one of the most fascinating spectacles I’ve seen in a long time: LeBron James’ extended, torturous mulling over his free-agency prospects. It culminated last night in a live announcement on ESPN where the 25-year old forward confirmed he would be leaving his hometown team the Cleveland Cavaliers—not to mention disappointing high-profile suitors like the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls—to play for the Miami Heat with two fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. As an outsider, it’s been interesting to read the morning-after commentary from sports columnists, almost all of whom have been brutal toward James. And it’s not necessarily because he decided to ditch Cleveland or jilt New York—it seems he was guaranteed to piss people off no matter what he did. It’s the way he opted to do it—the deliberately agonizing build-up, the live announcement with every camera pointed in his direction, his own admission that the teams he was rejecting were learning his decision at the very same moment as the rest of America.  The whole thing felt stage-managed to death, layered with narcissism, and more than a little awkward. In short, it felt like reality TV.

Yesterday, ESPN’s invaluable columnist Bill Simmons offered a very entertaining 23 Random Thoughts before the “Lebronocalypse.” Among them, he pointed out that LeBron’s future Heat teammates Bosh and Wade were being followed by camera crews for a possible documentary on the free-agency season. “As any reality-show junkie knows, if there’s no drama, you have to manufacture it,” Simmons wrote. “So what works? Indecision. Meetings. More meetings. A lot of ‘agonizing.’ If this footage ever sees the light of day, I bet the acting is worse than your average episode of The Hills. You wait.” He wasn’t talking about LeBron at that moment, but after last night’s show, the comparison is just sitting there in the spotlight, begging to be made. Has this really become the path to success in our media culture? Turning every major life decision into a sort-of entertaining, sort-of cringe-y Rose Ceremony? I’m not trying to moralize about the evils of reality TV—after all, I continue to enjoy and laugh at/with a lot of those shows. But I do get uncomfortable when I see a superstar athlete like LeBron James turn himself into the Bachelor. What do you think? Was LeBron live TV stunt shameless or savvy?

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  • Bob

    Shameless. It made me hate him so much, and this was a guy I thought as a true role model. His arrogance and narcissism was disgusting. I cannot believe that he turned his back on all of his fans on public TV like that. Give me a break. You’re not the president of the United States, you’re not someone who in the end decides things for people or this country. You play a game!! And he props himself up and thinks he’s better than everyone, and it’s so fake, and so vain, it just makes me sick. He has ruined his reputation and any respect I ever had for him.

    • Beth

      Yes, The Decision has been made, but this is a hilarious article mocking the process.

      LeBron James announces that he will buy the Miami Heat, endorse the New York Knicks, marry two of the LA Clippers’ Spirit Dancers in a Utah ceremony in August, become Executive Vice President of Mining and Distribution for Polyus Gold (NJ Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s gold empire) and play basketball part-time for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

      Read the FUNNY article here:

      http://www.dailygoat.com/2010/07/lebron-james-gives-thanks-god-signing-10-year-100m-endorsement-deal-heaven/

    • Jen

      He doesn’t just nobly ‘play a game,’ like the World Cup soccer players with all their patriotic spirit. He’s a multi, multi millionaire in a professional sports organization that’s all about business and money and advertising deals!

      • James

        Yep, a business that relies on building a strong fanbase, which involves success and character. LeBron lost a good portion of his fanbase last night…at least temporarily.

      • huzzah

        Jen,
        “He doesn’t just nobly ‘play a game,’ like the World Cup soccer players”
        I’m sorry, but do you know how much money those guys make from their clubs and off of advertisement deals? I’m sure that James showed a great deal of patriotic pride as part of Team USA at the Olympics, but he’s no better or worse than those soccer players.

  • amanda

    I don’t have cable (I can hear the gasps) but I followed on twitter and I’m guessing it was about a billion times more entertaining than watching the live tv special.

    • james

      yes – we who were watching tv had to endure 30 minutes of commercials before “The Decision” then it was – said softly, like little LeBron was scared to say “I LOVE MIAMI”

  • Birv

    Can it be shameless AND savvy? I don’t like it, I think it reeks of fame-whoring sleaze, but half the country hung on each word. One of my employees took personal time to go watch the announcement (!)…it’s not like the public isn’t eating up the filth.

    • amanda

      LOL they seriously took time off work to watch his announcement? I guess you can do anything with personal time but …. I have no words.

    • Quirky

      Lebron is a media whore and ESPN was his pimp.

      • Jamey

        Quirky, I agree with you. I refused to watch and haven’t watched ESPN at all. I know one person not watching doesn’t mean squat, but I thought it was shameless and I have lost respect for both.

  • Sally in Chicago

    When you ask? When the NBA went $400 mil into deficit this year.

  • malcontent

    What about the grammas Lebron…what about the grammas? http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2010/07/09/sports/CAVS.htm

  • Sharon

    Horrible and very insensitive. He knew where he was going for months, he knew the implications of holding a teams pocketbook hostage while he made a decision, he knew the Cavs did everything he asked for seven years, and yet had the audacity to fire them on TV….Unfortunately he will go on to make so much money – because usually when you are a “all about me” person you don’t make it very far in the real world. Shame on him for not calling his team who helped him get his crown and say “hey I am leaving”. He is a cop out….Good Bye to one selfish player as many who have played with him will tell you someday.

    • S.J.

      He didn’t do it for the money, he went with Miami because he wanted to win. If it was just about the money then he would have been better off with the Cavs or the Nets the first time they made their offer. One thing that bothered me the most about his decision was how he waited so long to tell the Cavs about it and how he did it on National T.V. It’s like leading his girlfriend on as if he was going to propose and then dump her on National TV..

      • Marsha

        Wait a while, I wouldn’t put that past him either.

      • Pete

        If LeBron wanted to win now he would have went to Chicago. All Miami has right now is the big 3 and Mario Chalmers at point guard signed & only 5 million in cap space with the Beasley trade to sign 8 more players.

        Chicago has an all-star point guard (Rose), an all-star power forward (Boozer) & a up & coming center with a great motor who plays his heart out every night (Noah). Even after LeBron signed they would still have cap space to get more pieces. I’m a Bull’s fan, but how does that not make sense in the big picture of wanting to win titles now?

      • Darrin

        It is still hugely about the money. If his only priority was winning rings, he could’ve signed with the Lakers for the league minimum, won a few titles there, and still gotten $30 million a year from Nike and all his other sponsors.

      • Jake

        I don’t think so Pete and apparently neither does LeBron. Rose ain’t no Dwane… Darrin, I see your point but there is no way in hell Kobe would have agreed to that otherwise he would have pitched it to LeBron like Dwane did about Miami. The Lakers made no attempt whatsoever to get him and they won’t until Kobe is gone.

      • James

        LBJ didn’t do this for money, and I don’t think he did it for rings either.

        He did this so he could have fun playing with his buds in South Beach.

        Nothing more.

        James needed a father figure to step in and tell him to suck it up and live up to his mantle.

      • Kvivik

        You really believe that it was all about winning???
        Miami = No income tax
        I agree with Darrin. If it wasn’t about the money, he’d have taken a pay cut to play for any of the hottest teams who have a shot at next year’s championship.
        I have to say though that after watching that stupid ‘it’s all about me’ infomercial “The Decision”, I also lost a great deal of respect for Chris Bosch and Dwayne Wade. I lost count of how many times the commentators said that the three of them had arranged to all be free agents in the same year so that this could possibly happen.
        100% stupid.

      • Pete

        Here’s my argument Jeff, LeBron went to the Heat where the Big 3’s contracts are going to make it so that team will have no depth behind them, and also no decent starting point guard to spread the ball or center to bang bodies inside.

        My argument is he could of went to the Bulls where they have a point guard (Rose), power forward (Boozer), & center (Noah). Then they could signed a decent shooting guard (Miller or Reddick) who can shoot 3’s & still be under the cap.

        I honestly think he wanted Miami for both what James said & another thing Bill Simmons said, LeBron doesn’t want it all riding on his back. When crunch time hits he doesn’t want the ball. Miami gives him the ability to hand over the games to Dwayne Wade.

      • Joe

        He went to Miami to be apart of a team not to take over it. If he would have gone to Chicago, it would have been LeBron’s Bulls. He went to Miami knowing that it was still going to be Dwayne’s team. Lost respect for Dwayne? He remained loyal to his team..He convinced LeBron to come..He took a lesser pay than what he would have originally gotten if LeBron hadn’t showed up. He did everything he could to make HIS TEAM a good contender for the title next year. Did LeBron do that for Cleveland? Get off the bandwagon Kvivik!

    • Ta

      I am so sick of everyone criticizing atheletes everytime they do something. Damn if you you do damn if you don’t. No one says anything about how these managers and owner’s go around and fire these players and coaches. I say get over it. Just like Cleveland gave to him for seven years he gave just as much to them. He was never going to get the help he needed to win there anyways because no one wants to be in Cleveland. This is a younger generation who wants results now. You never know what is going to happen so live in the moment. By the way I am a Lebron fan no matter where he goes.

  • Gretchen

    Shameless, no question about it. The fact that he didnt have the b*lls to call his former team to let them know speaks to how shameless he is. Not to mention he discarded Chicago b/c they refused to entertain his entourage as Cleveland did. He’s an egomaniac who needed all cameras on him. Ugh. My new favorite team is whatever team is playing the Heat!

  • Diane

    I think Bill Simmons said it best. I never thought LeBum would say HELP. The fact that he screwed over Cleveland and destroyed their ability to do a sign and trade that would at least help preserve their cap space makes LeBum an antihero. I hope it destroys his brand.

    • MikeC

      Good point about his “brand.” If Lebron endorses it, I won’t buy it.

      • Jamey

        I am with you on that Diane and MikeC

  • Michael

    I thought it was fine! Great even! I couldn’t ask for more. In the heart of summer we are talking about basketball instead of the horrendous baseball. Awesome

  • Nee Nee

    Officially rooting for every team that plays Miami, including NY and LA (two teams that I’ve always hated). Yeah, I’d rather cheer for the teams I have always hated over Miami now. LeBron is self-absorbed. Pride comes before a fall!

  • Meso Soup

    I hope the Heat NEVER win a championship.
    Wade, Lebron and Bosh are everything I hate about the NBA.

    • m

      What did dwade and bosh ever do? Lol they are both CLASS acts, unlike lebrick james

      • S

        I disagree, Wade started all of this with his “summit” and his basic demand of him picking the next coach. And no matter what, they are forever associated with this, which is unfortunate, but true

      • John

        You can’t get mad at Wade for for trying to pull all the strings could to better his TEAM. That is waht a loyal person does for his team. It’s not his fault the James wanted to make a whole spectacle out of this whole ordeal and drag it out for as long as he can.

  • MikeC

    I know I don’t speak for all Cavs fans, but I’ve been sick to death of the whole narcissistic spectacle since Lebron’s ego-maniacal assertion that “The Decision” was practically equivalent to whether or not the world should be saved from a giant meteorite heading our way. I don’t fault him for signing with another team. I don’t fault him for wanting to win an NBA championship while he is still young and healthy. What I DO fault him for is the spectacle he made of himself and the mockery he made of Cavs fans by broadcasting his decision on live TV in an HOUR-LONG special on ESPN, for cripe’s sake! He put their pain on display for everyone to see for his own massive ego trip. I honestly think Cavs fans would have accepted the loss of Lebron had he not exploited their devotion to him in the process.
    Thanks to the writer, Kerrie Mitchell, for putting my feelings into words.

    • Gretchen

      MikeC – I do think what you said represents what the majority of Cavs fans are upset about!

    • Kristal

      I would never fault an athlete for leaving Cleveland thinking they had a better chance to win a chamionship elsewhere.
      He took the loyality that all us Cavs fans showed him and threw it back into our faces like it meant nothing to him.

  • m

    While I wasn’t a fan of him having an hour long special, he did make the smart move to go to miami. That showed maturity because he’s taking a hefty pay cut to play with ultimately a better team. Bosh, dwade, and bron bron are going to be tough to stop on the same squad.

    • Sharlin

      Totally agree with you. Seriously, were people this upset when Jordan went to play for the Wizards, or when Shaq left the Magic to play for the Lakers, then left the Lakers to play for Miami??!! Players get traded all the time and players move to other teams. Free Agency is not a new phenomenon.

      • Jennifer

        Neither Jordan nor Shaq scheduled the NBA equivalent of the State of the Union address to announce their moves. It’s not necessarily his decision that people are criticizing; it’s the manner in which he chose to publicize it. At the very least, he should’ve informed the Cavs first.

    • Darrin

      He’s not taking much of a pay cut at all. Granted, he could’ve got $125 mil. in Cleveland and “only” 99 mil. or so in Miami, but FL has no state income tax, so that cuts that difference quite a bit.

    • Gretchen

      Actually, his best bet would have been Chicago b/c right now Miami has exactly 4 players on their roster and about $8M in cap space to sign 8 more players…good luck fielding a good group of compliment players for that. And what if any of them get hurt?

  • Elizabeth in the Cleve

    * Using the Boys & Girls Club as a human shield
    * Trotting in team owners and GMs to give presentations
    * Holding a franchise immobile while they wait on you after they’ve done everything humanly and financially possible to put the pieces in place for you to succeed
    * Phoning in the entire 2010 post-season

    If you want to call the decision making of a bunch of dudes in their mid-20s “savvy”, we’re in a heap of trouble. To me, this looks like DWade, LeBron, and Chris Bosh working the angles for eternal spring break.

    • word

      *you’re team wouldn’t be in the playoffs without Lebron
      *they had seven years to build a team around him and they simply didn’t do it
      *your whole city kissed his ass for seven years and you wonder why he has an ego
      *if he said he was staying you would be loving this whole spectacle

      The only sports tradition in Cleveland is losing.

      • michael gallucci

        and your only tradition, “word,” is misspelling “your” in your first point. jackass

  • Juan

    It was savvy, it was great. I loved it. Everybody is talking about the NBA now. Kobe is loving it also because he is not the No.1 villain anymore and his Lakers are no longer the most hated team in the league.

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