Yesterday I emailed ESPN to see why they spiked an unflattering but largely innocuous story about LeBron James partying in Las Vegas. If you didn't see it in its short lifespan on the internet, you can read it here. It's by the talented Arash Markazi, who astutely and unsparingly notes a bunch of NBA players acting like giant toddlers who fell into vats full of money.
The lone exception: Glen Davis, portrayed in the article as shaking his head at LeBronapalooza and leaving. I like to imagine he went to the MGM Grand, and waited in line to pose for a picture with the baby lion cubs. Then he tried to buy one, succeeded, and spent the rest of the evening in his hotel room bottle-feeding it and watching Mantracker. In fact, I'll just say he did this, and if Davis objects, he can just email my bosses and demand a retraction even if I have witnesses.
What will we say when people ask why our exclusive "Glen Davis bought a lion cub in Las Vegas?" story was pulled?
We'll say that the story didn't pass through the usual editorial process, which is precisely what ESPN claimed with the LeBron story.
"The story should have never been published. The draft was inadvertently put on the server before going through the usual editorial process. We are in the midst of looking into the matter."
I don't expect PR people to lie. i do expect them to contextualize creatively, though, since NBA players at the highest level are now part of the editorial process. LeBron's people had something to say about this, and had a fit, and then reminded ESPN they are part of the editorial process. Story vanishes from their site down the memory hole, and another NBA player's people nixes a story off a website.
Do not for a second think I'm suggesting LeBron called. This isn't even an exchange of that degree of sincerity. LeBron did not read this. LeBron is busy doing what you would be doing if you were in your mid-20s and sitting in a mansion atop a plie of cash, living out the same boring fantasies most people with unspendable amounts of money do. Oooh, you have multiple fast cars and regal pretensions! Perhaps a Scarface poster elegantly framed! A ten thousand dollar empty refrigerator! It's all so innovative, Mr. James/Wade/whatever.
(The worst part of a decade of MTV Cribs is the realization that the rich are just as lumpen and uninspired as most people when it comes to taste, interests, and desires. Except you, Richard Branson. You're the wacky billionaire all others aspire to, and when you get sucked out of an airlock on your private space station because you "wanted a bit of air," I'll salute your orbiting corpse happily.)
His people called, not LeBron himself, and had the story pulled: this is far more likely than trained professionals editing and publishing a story accidentally. This is not what ESPN's official statement is, but again, we're not accusing them of lying here--just of having a very broad understanding of "the editorial process."
Coming on the heels of "The Decision," the most bizarre University of Phoenix infomercial ever, this looks horrible for ESPN, whose own ombudsman condemned the network's decision to air the hour-long LeBron interview and the lack of editorial control the network had in dealing with LeBron and his entourage. You know the network values entertainment over journalism, and they know they do, but the pretense just made me feel so much better about the whole thing. Like eating a fried chicken salad and not just the fried chicken, I liked the greenery giving me the illusion of health and balance in my diet.
As bad as it is for ESPN, it's worse for the future of any coverage of the NBA as a whole. I know for a fact that Dwyane Wade's people will raise hell if you publish anything remotely unflattering about him (even if factual,) and have with large websites who--for reasons probably involving "editorial oversight"--pulled or edited the story. This petty middle school slambook ninnyhood only devolves into coverage becoming one of two things:
a.) Sanitized gloss backing the creation of an endorsement-ready public image.
b.) Ad hominem dreck (see: anything Adrian Wojnarowski has written about LeBron James) when the columnist is shut out and denied access when they print something accurate.
This is just about a story about a party, and an innocuous one at that. Even the most eye-popping detail in the story is, on further investigation, mundane: the nude ladies in bathtubs are standard at Tao, and not some Caligula touch added by LeBron for the occasion. But those nude ladies, like it or not, are part of the picture, and a writer's task is to capture an event in accurate words. Their existing problem involved balance. Their new one involves reflecting reality itself, an unreal proposition for someone with even a passing respect for writing down things as they happen.