Winners and losers in the LeBron James circus
Here are the winners and losers from the wild LeBron James free-agency decision, which came to an ultimately anti-climatic conclusion Thursday night when King James announced he was headed to Miami.
Miami: A year ago, it appeared as if the Heat might lose Dywane Wade and would have to rebuild from scratch. Not only did Wade return, but he has been joined by Chris Bosh and, of course, LeBron to form the core of what should be the Eastern Conference favorite for the next several seasons.
Michael Wilbon/Jon Barry: ESPN had an awful night (more on that later in the post), but at least Wilbon and Barry maintained their dignity and journalistic intregity with thoughtful analysis and insightful questions. Wilbon showed sympathy for Cleveland fans and pressed James on the negative reaction he was receiving from Cleveland. Barry, almost from the start, questioned James decision to go to Miami.
Chris Broussard: You could almost see the ESPN NBA insider let out a sigh of relief after James announced he was going to Miami. It's what Broussard had been reporting all day and had LeBron thrown everyone a curve, Broussard's reputation might have taken a hit. Instead, he comes out looking good.
ESPN: The self-proclaimed World Wide Leader took plenty of hits (and I'll get to that in a bit), but two things are clear. One, LeBron approached ESPN about the announcement special, showing how much pull ESPN has in the sports world. And, two, people watched. Say what you want about ESPN's integrity as a news-gathering organization, they are first and foremost a television station and people (lots of them) watched the network all day and night long.
Stephen A. Smith: The long-time sports analyst said weeks ago that James, Bosh and Wade would all end up together in Miami. He called it from the start.
LeBron James: Perhaps LeBron will get a championship or two in Miami, but his reputation has taken a huge hit and not just in Cleveland. While LeBron shouldn't be blamed for taking advantage of the free agent status he has earned, he could have handled the process better. And it should not have concluded with a one-hour special on ESPN. He comes away from this as arrogant and immature and the player longed seen as a good guy certainly will face boos from now on.
ESPN: Yes, people watched, but at what cost? The network is being universally criticized today for selling out by letting James dictate the terms of his announcement. The network has always straddled the line between entertainment and news, but Thursday night, it looked more like Entertainment Tonight or TMZ than a serious news operation. Furthermore, after telling us James would announce his decision in the first 15 minutes, ESPN didn't get to the actual decision until 27 minutes into the hour show. James' interview didn't even start until 22 minutes into the broadcast.
Jim Gray: LeBron's hand-picked interviewer had a rough night. It took him a mind-boggling 16 questions before he finally asked the one question everyone was tuned in for -- where was LeBron going? You knew there was going to be a slight build-up to create a little tension, but 16 questions is ridiculous. He looked more like LeBron's partner-in-crime than serious news interviewer. The only person whose reputation took more of a hit Thursday than LeBron was Gray, who might find a hard time overcoming his dreadful performance.
Cleveland: Poor Cleveland. Burning jerseys and wishing horrible accidents for LeBron is a bit much, but who can blame them for feeling betrayed? LeBron was one of the them, an Ohio native. He played seven years, didn't help to produce a championship and then left. And then Cleveland had to watch him leave in a nationally-televised one-hour special. That's cold, man. It's hard to think of a place where it's harder to be a sports fan than Cleveland. The football team stinks. The baseball team stinks. And now the basketball team stinks. The last good thing in sports that Cleveland had just packed his suntan lotion and headed to Miami.
All of us: It was train-wreck television and it was hard not to watch. But don't you feel a bit dirty today?