by Walter Brasch
American Reporter Senior Correspondent
July 13, 2010
LeBRON, THE MEDIA, AND AMERICA'S SOUL
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- LeBron James will play for the Miami Heat, although you probably knew that already.
But I knew it before you did.
The sporting world was all a-flutter for months with speculation about where James would end up - Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Miami, Chicago or even staying in Cleveland - and sports reporters would clasp their hands to their cheeks, get a far-off dreamy look in their eyes, and gush about where the Royal One would spend the next five or six years.
The speculation reached such a fever pitch that ESPN planned to air a 1-hour special called "The Decision," in which James would announce his team choice.
LeBron's people contracted with ESPN to run the special, and had a few restrictions for the sports network, including not telling ESPN what the decision would be beforehand, and not letting ESPN sell advertising. Rather, LeBron's people sold sponsorships, and the proceeds would go to the Boys and Girls Club of America. (They received $6 million in sponsorships and advertising, and $2.5 million went to the Club in both cash and goods.)
In essence, ESPN agreed to devote a whole revenue-free hour to a publicity stunt that could have been summed up in a single 14-word statement
"LeBron, what's your decision?" interviewer Jim Gray asked.
"I'm going to take my talents to South Beach, and join the Miami Heat," James said.
"Is that your final answer?"
"Uh, can I phone a friend?"
While I applaud James giving $2.5 million to help a great organization that helps kids all over the country, I still can't believe they devoted an entire hour to "I'm going to … join the Miami Heat."
I can spin a long story out of a short one, but even I can't create a whole hour out of what amounts to seven words.
But this isn't the stupidest part of the whole evening. (I say "stupidest" instead of "most stupid," because something this staggeringly stupid deserves to have the incorrect word applied to it.)
No, the stupidest part of the whole evening was what time I actually found out about LeBron's career choice.
Most of the world learned LeBron's choice at around 9:30 pm, but I knew about it an hour earlier.
That's because I was at the gym watching ESPN News, when they posted on their news crawl: "Sources close to LeBron James say James will join the Miami Heat."
(In other earth-shattering news, I was at a gym.)
I was dumbfounded, I was astonished, I was sitting with my mouth open, and not just because I was pedaling like a mad fool on a stationary bike.
ESPN just scooped themselves with the news of The Decision.
They had just given up a whole hour of prime-time programming, yammered about it at least two hours before the event, and spent more time than was emotionally healthy talking about it afterward, and they ruined it all by running a news crawl 30 minutes before The Decision was set to air.
I realize I don't know much about sports news, but I do know that you should never, ever scoop your own 1-hour news special that you've basically spent the entire NBA season leading up to. Especially when you just gave up at least $6 million in ad revenue, and gave up all editorial control of your entire network.
Admittedly, other news outlets were also reporting James was leaning toward the Heat, but what was probably most galling for James was the fact that he didn't tell anyone until Thursday morning, and supposedly only told a few people. So obviously someone in his camp spilled the beans, and wrecked his chance at being the first to make The Big Announcement about The Decision.
But ESPN should not have stooped to the level of the other sources, especially 30 minutes before The Decision was going to air. If I were King James, I would be royally pissed, and call for someone's head. (Of course, if I were King, I would also invade Major League Baseball and end the Designated Hitter rule.)
Someone needs to explain to ESPN that you do not ruin a mystery by telling whodunnit in the first five minutes, you don't explain how a magician does his tricks, and you don't ruin a multi-million dollar sports special by a premature proclamation. Let Entertainment Tonight ruin it for everyone.
Erik publishes his humor column and other articles at his http://laughing-stalk.blogspot.com>Erik Deckers' Laughing Stalk blog.