It has just come over the wires that the single most important free agent in the NBA this summer, LeBron James, will finally decide where he'll play next season, but a mere press conference just isn't enough, it seems.
It is being reported that James, or more specifically, so-called representatives of the superstar, asked ESPN to cover the event live in prime time on Thursday night, in order to get the message out to everyone. That translates into ratings points for ESPN, one of the NBA's television partners, of course, but it also creates a perception that James, after 7 years in the league, wants to be treated like he was the President of the United States. He's taking his nickname, "King James", a little bit too seriously, from where I sit. No one has really considered James to be an attention mark, but that's how some people might see this.
On the other hand, there is the matter of charity involved, particularly the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, whom James has worked with for years. Maverick Carter, James' business manager, said that there would be some donation to the Boys & Girls Clubs involved as part of the TV deal. Carter also stated that the national TV announcement was due to the "unprecedented" interest in James as a free agent, interest generated over the course of the last season, which in turn nearly overshadowed the NBA Finals between the Lakers & Celtics.
So, who's really to blame? The NBA & ESPN, for allowing this to happen? The league has fostered an environment where select individual talents are heavily marketed (i.e. James, Kobe Bryant), moreso than the teams they play for. The NBA is the only league that ignores the necessary emphasis on team play. The last two decades have seen a greater influx of players using college as a temporary way station, convinced by talent scouts that they have enough game where they don't need the additional education. Then, once the word gets out, you have an increasing circle of friends, some of whom probably are jumping on the bandwagon to see what they can get out of it.
Some of the greatest players in NBA history, such as Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Cousy, Patrick Ewing, and Jerry West, all played 4 years of college ball before turning pro. Today's kids are listening to people waving big wads of cash in front of them. That covert hypnosis has them making what amounts to a pit stop in college (see this year's #1 pick, John Wall, for an example) before going pro. While some of these kids will tell you that it's about taking care of the families, and that's fine, what happens to the education?
LeBron James entered the NBA directly out of high school in 2003. He's lived up to the hype, but hasn't been able to deliver a championship in Cleveland. He has the requisite endorsement deals with Nike, among others, and has the usual cast of pals and bandwagon jumpers giving him advice, good and bad. A nationally televised press conference to decide where he'll play in the 2010-11 season falls under bad advice, because it changes the perception of James for all the wrong reasons. Sure, James and his inner circle are aware of the media obsession and will exploit it to the maximum, but this is going a wee bit too far. ESPN's a willing enabler, because of their investment in the league, but treating one of the league's top stars like he's a head of state? I don't think that's really the smartest of moves.
Of course, it could've been worse. They could've made a reality show about it.......