The Immovable Monolith Meets the Irredeemable Egomaniac

ESPN. LeBron James. THE DECISION. Tonight!

/chokes self out so I don’t have to be conscious while this airs

I’ve never had much of an opinion on LeBron James one way or the other. He’s a great player, obviously (that kind of analysis is why PCHA pays me the big bucks), but he’s never seemed particularly likable or unlikable.

Until now.

With all apologies to David Simon Cowell, who’s worked himself up into an old-fashioned tizzy over the fading possibility that James might be headed to Chicago (I’m concerned he’s going to need a fainting couch during THE DECISION), LeBron has proven in the last week that he’s a complete ass.

Even if James is the best basketball player in the world, he hasn’t won shit in the NBA. I can’t imagine the size and shape of the ego it would require to propose an hour-long ESPN special to announce your free agency decision, when you haven’t even shown you can be a winner. James is Michael Jordan pre-1991, from an achievement standpoint, and there’s no way that Jordan would have even conceived of appearing on a special like this under similar circumstances. Even post-rings Jordan wouldn’t have done that. Because Michael Jordan, despite the deep-rooted psychological issues that made their presence known at his Hall of Fame induction speech, carried himself with a veneer of class, respect for the game, and respect for his peers. James has none of those things.

Tonight’s special/sham is a perfect snapshot of where American sports culture is at in 2010. We care about spectacle, not quality. We care about the immediate, not the everlasting. Everyone who has paid any attention to the LeBron sweepstakes, including me, is at fault for allowing this abomination to happen. Every time we clicked on a link containing speculation about where James would sign, every time we didn’t turn the damn channel during yet another “news” report containing no information, we contributed to THE DECISION. And I’m sure it will get ridiculously strong ratings, and we’re due for more of this cultural garbage in the future.

We’ve allowed LeBron James to make a mockery of us. And the greatest enabler of all is ESPN, which tonight completes its transformation from a sports news and entertainment organization to the real-life GloboChem.

ESPN used to be an oasis in the desert wasteland of cable television. SportsCenter, in the Olbermann/Patrick/Kilborn era, was urbane and witty. Live sporting events were presented in an even-keeled way. Original programming was meager, but at least inoffensive.

Now, SportsCenter has become unwatchable. Since the Internet has rendered the need to transmit scores all but irrelevant, ESPN failed to adapt its signature show accordingly, turning it instead into mind-numbing blitz of in-show advertising and blowhards screaming at each other. Sporting events have been taken over by a generation of announcers and directors raised on Chris Berman, intent on overshadowing events on the field.

Recent World Cup coverage and the 30 for 30 series offered hope that there was still a glimmer of light at The Worldwide Leader, perhaps one high-ranking executive without an unquenchable thirst for more ad revenue. But THE DECISION proves that hope is futile. ESPN is dead. The LeBron special will be exactly what ESPN does best these days — carnival bark.

How the fuck is ESPN going to fill an hour around James announcing which team he’s going to play for? Will they put him on the Budweiser Hot Seat? Stuart Scott will be prominently involved, as will talking head/clown Michael Wilbon. I’m sure there will be some obligatory feel-good drivel about the Boys and Girls Club of America.

(Yes, I know proceeds from the special are going to charity. That matters not at all.)

The modern edition of ESPN and LeBron James were made for each other.

And if, as is currently being reported, LeBron is going to Miami, then he somehow becomes even more unlikable than he already became just by airing the special in the first place. To leave Cleveland — well, that’s completely his right. To rub Cleveland’s face in it on national TV with a celebratory infomercial — well, that’s something else entirely. I’ll leave it to David Simon Cowell to sort out what a move to Miami would mean to LeBron’s basketball legacy, but the combination of such a move and this insane ESPN special would completely destroy his personal legacy. And that’s assuming he cares about his legacy at all in the first place.

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Filed under Sports Has AIDS, The Dilemma

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