Jim Gray Stars In LeBron James 'Decision' Hostage Situation Infomercial (UPDATE)

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↵There have been many words written about The Decision, both on this site and countless others, and many of those words focused on the questionable journalistic ethics of ESPN to give an entire hour of programming – which really ended up being more like four hours – to LeBron James and his unparalleled ego to break the news that he was going to Miami and publicly break the hearts of millions in Cleveland. ↵

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↵Many in sports media took aim at ESPN, including a piece by Richard Sandomir in the New York Times and a must-read collection of reactions by SI's Richard Deitsch. ↵

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↵Rather than focus on ESPN's decision to go along with this special – something I, for full disclosure, do not begrudge ESPN for doing – let's take a moment to look at the content within the program. It was reported earlier in the week that Jim Gray was hand-picked by LeBron's people, in large part because of their long-standing relationship. Chris Broussard had broken ESPN's side of this story, but wasn't asked to do the interview. Stuart Scott hosted the special, but was not asked to the interview. Michael Wilbon, who interviewed Dwyane Wade and Chris Both when they announced their plans to go Miami, was not asked to do the interview. Now, Wilbon did conduct a real, in-depth interview with James just minutes after his "decision", but by that point the news was out, the reaction had begun and, frankly, most televisions had probably been switched to something else. ↵

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↵Deitsch noted earlier in the week that ESPN's Norby Williamson announced the decision would come within the first 15 minutes of the hour-long show. Reports on ESPN Radio during the day on Thursday indicated it could come as early as the first 10 minutes. That was not the case, by a mile. ↵

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↵Scott threw the coverage to Gray at the 22-minute mark (22:19 according to the time stamp on ESPN3.com), so that's where we'll begin. Keep in mind when reading these questions – asked by Gray to James – that this began 22 minutes into a show that had promised to give us the news within the first quarter hour. The self-indulgence, knowing that, was criminal. ↵

↵(UPDATE via Darren Rovell at CNBC: "ESPN didn't play down one part of the business arrangement of the deal — that Gray, the former ESPN and NBC reporter who is now working on a freelance basis, was James' preferred interviewer. But the network didn’t say, and now says they didn't know, that Gray's travel and payment for "The Decision" show was being paid by the entity set up by Team LeBron and not by ESPN, as CNBC has learned." That explains a lot, doesn't it.)
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↵⇥Well everybody is on pins and needles across the country, particularly those teams that are in the running for LeBron James. You ready to go, LeBron? (Claps hands). Where's the powder?⇥ ↵⇥

↵⇥So what's new, what's been going on with you this summer?⇥ ↵⇥

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↵At this point, it's unclear if Gray is trying to put an understandably nervous LeBron at ease, or put the viewer at ease. We just want the answer, Jim. (Worth noting is LeBron's reply: "Ah man, this whole free agent…experience…looking forward to it." That made zero sense, considering the free agent experience was about to end for him. It was a sign of things to come.) ↵
↵⇥What have you thought about this process?⇥ ↵⇥

↵⇥You weren't able to be recruited because you went right to the NBA from high school. So have you enjoyed this recruiting process now?⇥ ↵⇥

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↵Let's stop right there for a second. "You weren't able to be recruited…" Really? LeBron was forced into the NBA in some sort of indentured servant program? LeBron chose not to go to college. He was able to do so. ↵
↵⇥What did you expect, because we've seen 30-foot billboards. We've seen teams clear out all kinds of cap space, we have seen cartoons made about you and for you in part of their pitch. President Obama, for crying out loud, seven times has commented that he'd like to see you go to Chicago. What did you expect from this process? ↵
↵We are now 24:15 into the show and Gray has already asked five questions to James. He has yet to ask the only question anyone cares to know. At this point, it's clear that Gray, James and to whatever extent they allowed this to happen, ESPN, were screwing with us. The show didn't feel like a hold-up until this point, at the 24-minute mark when Gray asked: ↵
↵⇥How many people know your decision, right now? ↵
↵A responsible journalist would have already asked the question we were waiting to hear, and therefore the answer to how many people know would have been: the entire freaking world. Gray was holding us hostage and someone at ESPN needed to have the ability – and authority – to get to the answer immediately. ↵

↵After James indicated he could count the number of people on his hands that knew his answer, Gray went in for the kill: ↵

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↵⇥One hand or two hands? ↵
↵The next four questions are, by and large, reactions to LeBron's comments, so a bit of context may be needed. In essence, Gray asked when LeBron had decided, and despite all the reports for the last week, James said he finally decided Thursday morning. ↵
↵⇥When did you decide?⇥ ↵⇥

↵⇥So the last time you changed your mind was yesterday?⇥ ↵⇥

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↵⇥So does the team that you're going to, that you'll announce in a few minutes, do they know your decision?⇥ ↵⇥

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↵⇥They just found out. So the other five, on pins and needles, they don't know? They'll be listening to this?⇥ ↵⇥

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↵After James eventually said Miami (which we'll get to in a moment), there were a few questions about his time in Cleveland and how the fans may feel (see face, above). Gray neglected to press James on why he didn't have the courtesy to tell the Cavaliers before telling the general public on TV. That may have been something worth asking, no? ↵
↵⇥Who in this process, LeBron, have you taken advice from and who has had the biggest influence?⇥ ↵⇥

↵⇥What was the major factor, the major reason, in your decision? (Answer: winning)⇥ ↵⇥

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↵⇥How deep of an evaluation do you have to do to go through that, to figure out tomorrow, next year and beyond, that equation, that winning?⇥ ↵⇥

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↵⇥Do you have any doubts about your decision?⇥ ↵⇥

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↵This line of questioning began 25:30 into the show and more than three minutes in to Gray's time with James. After James replied to the last question with, "Um, no, I don't have any doubts at all," Gray joked: ↵
↵⇥Would you like to sleep on it a little longer, or are you ready to make this decision? ↵
↵Gray either had no sense of the moment whatsoever, or had complete understanding that this could be his next great moment in journalism (and finally his chance for redemption after the Pete Rose All-Star debacle that has always stayed with him) and was milking every last second out of his own relevance. Unfortunately, asking questions like "would you like to sleep on it a little longer" isn't earning him any votes in the "great journalist" hall of fame. ↵
↵⇥You still a nail biter?⇥ ↵⇥

↵⇥Well you've had everybody else biting their nails so I guess it's time for them to stop chewing.⇥ ↵⇥

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↵I don't know if the question was more or less ridiculous than the fact that James actually answered him. This is 27 minutes into the program and more than five minutes into the interview, we're still without the ONLY BIT OF INFORMATION anyone cares to know and Gray jokingly asked if James still bites his nails? ↵

↵Think about the worst wedding speech you've ever heard, where the best man droned on and on about nonsense and inside jokes that you just began to want him to collapse because the end didn't seem like it was ever going to come. Now imagine that speech came before news that could shift the balance of power of an entire sport. Yes, at this point, I was hoping for Gray to pass out so we could be put out of our collective misery. ↵

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↵⇥The answer to the question everybody wants to know: LeBron, what's your decision? ↵
↵Finally, we had our answer, more than 27 minutes in and more than 12 minutes after ESPN had promised we'd know. ↵

↵Gray's softball line of questioning didn't stop there, but in the interest of time we'll highlight just a few of his follow-up queries: ↵

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↵⇥Was it always in your plan to go and play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh? ↵
↵James had said more than once that he woke up in the morning and made the decision, so is that question basically asking if he's a liar? It doesn't make any sense given the conversation to that point. ↵
↵⇥The three of you will now share the spotlight and the limelight. And in many ways you're going to Dwyane Wade's team – he's been in Miami, he's won a championship. How do you think you'll be able to fit in and possibly not be the headliner all the time. ↵
↵That's a good question, and here's LeBron's reply, in full: ↵
↵⇥"For me, it's not about sharing. It's about everyone having their own spotlight and then just doing what's best for the team.⇥ ↵⇥

↵⇥"At this point D-Wade is the unselfish guy here. To be able to have Chris Bosh and then LeBron James, to welcome us to his team…it's not about the individual here because if that was the case D-Wade wouldn't have asked us to join him or we wouldn't have asked him if it was OK to come down there. It's not about individuals, it's about a team, and that's what this game is about."⇥ ↵⇥

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↵It's an amazing glimpse into the ego and narcissism of James to say that it's not about sharing and he expects each player to have his own spotlight. He then rambled through an awkward explanation about Wade being unselfish and how important team is. A good journalist would have smelled blood in the water – keeping in mind that James' decision immediately turned him into a potential villain on national TV – and pressed him about this entire spectacle and how people who were his fans won't be anymore, specifically because of his never-ending need to be in his own spotlight. ↵
↵⇥How do you explain this to the people in Cleveland? ↵
↵Again a fine question, but Gray just let the opportunity to press James on anything go, instead deciding to go with the first of several Cleveland softballs. They talked more about his decision and his mom and her reaction to the news and who he thinks will coach the team and every easy question you would think might be asked to those "experts" on an infomercial. That's what Gray became; an wide-eyed interviewer on one of those late-night food grilling station infomercials…"It tastes so moist…and in only six minutes!"
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↵⇥Ever want to go through this again? ↵
↵Yes. He does. He'd do it every single day if ESPN let him, just to feed his ego. Let's just hope next time we're not all held hostage by Gray in the process.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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