LeBron and ESPN
The LeBron James free-agency circus so big that it has become its own primetime show. ESPN will broadcast James' announcement Thursday night in a one-hour special on ESPN. And James is taking a beating for it. Sportswriters across the country are killing James even though James reportedly is looking for a sponsor for the show and will donate all the proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club of America.
Sports Illustrated "Extra Mustard'' writer Jimmy Traina, always one of the most entertaining reads on what is known as the World Wide Web, wrote:
LeBron James had decided the spotlight hasn't been shining on him enough lately, so he's going on ESPN Thursday night to announce his free-agent decision. The money generated from the show's ads will be donated to charity, but let's be honest; James is worth millions of dollars. He doesn't need to create this spectacle to donate some of his money to charity. This circus is about ego and Brand LeBron. As for what this means on the court, I have to assume he'll re-sign with Cleveland because if he's taking up an hour show to announce he's bolting his hometown, well, that would be pretty (gutsy). Oh, one more thing to add to this farce. Here's the opening sentence of a story on ESPN.com right now: "LeBron James is planning to announce the team with which he will sign during a one-hour special on ESPN Thursday night, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard has learned through independent sources." So the network that's airing the show has learned about the show through independent sources? Alrighty, then.
Meantime, ESPN takes quite the lashing in a piece by AOL Fanhouse's Milton Kent. Click here to read his take, which includes this closing line:
Ultimately, however, the target for responsibility hangs on the backs of ESPN executives who signed off on this. By accepting James' entreaties, ESPN executives have clearly made the determination that relationships and ratings are more important than journalistic integrity.
I understand ripping into LeBron. There have been a billion free-agent signings in all sports over the years and this is the first time I can remember that an athlete felt he was big enough to call ESPN and offer to make it a one-hour show. It does take a healthy dose of ego to do that. But I'm not sure ESPN could have handled it differently.
Now I've taken my share of shots at ESPN for stepping over the journalistic integrity line, including having its on-air talent appear in commericals with the athletes they cover. In this case, however, ESPN would be fools not to air a LeBron show. The LeBron signing is among the biggest sports stories of the year and if James calls and offers to announce it exclusively on your station, how do you say no? After all, ESPN first and foremost is a TV station and the No. 1 objective of a TV station is attract viewers. Now, if ESPN tells its reporters to lay off the story or it refuses to air stories from its reporters that reveals where LeBron is going, that's a problem. But if ESPN allows its reporters to keep working the story, why shouldn't it host a show where the official announcement will be made?