With last night's announcement that LeBron James will announce his free agency decision on national television, it sort of begged a response. It's an unprecedented move, and the perfect way to conclude a process that's been surreal from the very beginning. Why? Without further ado, some Frequently Asked Questions about LeBron's impending ESPN Free Agency Special...
So, LeBron's absurd conclusion to his free agency bonanza-LIVE on ESPN!-is for charity?
Yes. A benefit to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, to be exact.
Think of the type of person that would want to nationally broadcast a charitable donation. It makes sense to do charity broadcasts for causes like Gulf Coast relief, or even something like obesity, because those causes can really benefit from any added exposure. If you can help people in need and publicize their plight at the same time, then it's a huge boon.
But other than a handful of causes that really need the publicity, it's difficult not to wonder about the motives for someone that just out of the blue decides to go on national television under the auspices of "charity."
For the record: any person that can just decide he'd like to steal an hour of prime time programming on a major cable network probably has the money to make a gigantic donation in private, without a second thought, and without the help of sponsors.
But then what would LeBron do? Just let some random reporter break the story?
Even philanthropic LeBron comes off looking disingenuous.
Well wait, it's still for charity, right?
Right. He's still helping people.
Sure. But he's also making a spectacle of himself in the process, as he looks to build his "brand recognition" to even more stupefying heights. Not to get super-duper cynical with all this, but here's the formulas in play:
Formula No. 1: National TV Audience + Drawing Attention to LeBron James = More Money For LeBron Inc.
Formula No. 2: Haters, Skeptics, and Me / Ad Sales Go To Charity = 1
Forumula No. 3: More More For LeBron Inc. / (Haters, Skeptics, and Tricks / Ad Sales Go To Charity) = More Money For LeBron Inc.
In other words, if anyone complains that this is all just a transparent ploy to draw attention to LeBron Inc., Bron's representation can just point to the ad revenue and say it was all for a good cause.
So it's a pretty brilliant move by LeBron's representation, huh?
Err... Not so much, actually. What LeBron's people have completely overlooked is the deep resentment that exists for LeBron right now. This is not an ordeal that will be quickly forgotten by fans, and you could argue that every step of the way, LeBron has actively promoted the media hysteria surrounding him.
Of course you could argue that.
Person No. 1: "Did you hear? LeBron James sought out ESPN to make an unprecedented national televised announcement of his free agency decision.
Person No. 2: "God he's annoying."
Pretty sure people are having that exact conversation all across America right now. There's really not much of an argument, at this point.
It's no different than what happened with Brett Favre over the past few years. Favre's comeback to the Vikings mattered from a football standpoint. If he came to play in Minnesota, the Vikings became immediate Super Bowl contenders. We had reason to care what he did. But even so, Favre was so supremely self-indulgent about the whole thing, everyone forgot about why he mattered on the football field, and ultimately got to a point where just hearing the name "Favre" produced a backlash.
He milked the attention so much, it sort of obscured anything else he ever did.
When you're 25 years-old and at the peak of your profession, and people are already comparing you to Brett Favre and wishing you'd go away... Eh, that's not a good sign. Will LeBron's ESPN Special help or hurt his cause in this department?
Is this even about basketball anymore?
Maybe? Probably not. I mean, when you heard about LeBron's announcement on ESPN, what's the first thing that popped into your head?
- "Cool! We find out Thursday what happens to the future of the NBA Eastern Conference!"
- "LeBron's really announcing his choice as part of network special on ESPN? ... Is there no God?"
Something tells me it was closer to the second one.
What does Kobe Bryant think about all this?
Kobe: "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA "
(falls out of seat)
"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA... You can quote me on all this. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA."
(chokes on a Championship ring)
(Ron Artest performs Heimlich maneuver, saves his life)
"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.... Whewwww. LEBRON!"
What does Michael Jordan think about all this?
(Peers over his shoulder to make sure his mistress isn't looking)
(Slip number to a cocktail waitress)
"What'd you say? You were asking about the boy LeBron?"
"Oh, Bron... "
*Note: This is how I imagine every conversation Jordan has these days... Not a poor reflection on LeBron there.
But hey, all this is great entertainment, right?
Yeah, a lot like those college football shows, where the high school recruits pick from all different hats and announce their college choice.
But remember: Those are high school kids. LeBron is arguably the most prominent basketball player on the face of the earth. He's not just a kid happy to be on camera. He's a grown man that seems way, way too preoccupied with being on camera, and it sort of undermines his role as a torchbearer for the current generation of basketball players.
The show itself sounds entertaining in theory, just like Free Agency 2010 had the potential to be one of the more intriguing offseason subplots in sports history. But really, it's all been so self-indulgent, and the hour-long "LeBron Special" is the perfect way to end it. Just make a mockery of EVERYONE.
Think of it this way: What if Barack Obama held an ABC News special to pick his next running mate? It'd be completely absurd, and kind of insulting to everyone involved. There's a certain dignity that should come with the territory, no?
Someone needs to sit LeBron down and have the Lawrence Taylor steam room talk from Any Given Sunday. As a superstar athlete, there are a number of different ways he can handle the torch that's been passed his way. But as Shark Lavay tells Willie Beamen, "When all this is over, you're going to look back..."
And what will LeBron think? Given the profound lack of self-awareness he's displayed so far, there's a good chance he'll regret nothing. But if we look back and wonder when LeBron’s future went from “exciting” to “exasperating,” we’ll probably point to the Summer of 2010 as the tipping point. Or, more specifically, to Thursday night at 9 p.m. eastern, live on ESPN.