Friday, July 09, 2010

LeBron-athon followup

Just a quick followup to last night's "Decision" where LeBron James announced his intention to play for the Miami Heat in a made-for-ESPN hour-long interview program.

On the subject of heat, LeBron, ESPN and hand-picked interviewer Jim Gray are all getting plenty today. LeBron for ditching his home town for promises of an "easy" title in Miami; ESPN for hosting the cheesy affair and turning it into a bad reality show; and Gray for wasting 16 questions on LeBron before he finally asked the only one anyone cared about--where James was going to play.

Depending on your point of view, last night's show was either an exciting moment in sports television, or as TV producer Eric Stangel called it, "The exact moment our society hit rock bottom." The show certainly had important lessons for students of the sports media. In particular--

1) LeBron James and other star athletes don't think of themselves as athletes so much as brands. They use the media to cultivate, shape and grow their brand through handlers and agents. When rumors were swirling Wednesday that LeBron might choose to play in New York, stock of Madison Square Garden, which owns the Knicks, rose 6.8%, then fell 4% when it became clear James was headed to Miami. Even the location of last night's show, a Boys and Girls Club in Connecticut, was meant to accentuate LeBron's "charitable" brand.

2) Athletes are very aware of media pressure and still find the glaring spotlight uncomfortable. If James had gone to New York he would have become a mega-star and likely fulfilled one of his wishes of becoming a billionaire. But he also would have had to play day-in and day-out in the relentless and vicious New York media market which has destroyed more than its share of athletes. Many today are speculating that LeBron didn't want that kind of "heat" and figured it would be much easier to deal with the media in sunny Florida.

3) There is, or at least appears to be, a limit on how much people can take. Reaction to the whole thing--LeBron, ESPN, Jim Gray--has been almost universally negative. It seems like there is a line we don't want crossed, although it's hard to know exactly where that line is. In any case, the "LeBron-athon" apparently not only crossed the line of overexposure, it obliterated it.


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