July 9, 2010
Larry Busacca/Getty Images
LeBron James decision to play with the Miami Heat was a better one than his decision on how to announce it.
ESPN's exclusive broadcast of Lebron James' choice, "The Decision," was not Lebron's idea. It was the idea of journalist Jim Gray, who approached LeBron's agent Maverick Carter during the NBA Finals with the idea.
According to Gray, Maverick Carter took an interest in Gray's idea because he saw it as an opportunity to raise money for charity. ESPN donated all the advertising revenue to charity, which Nike matched.
"The Decision" however, was a public relations disaster for LeBron James, who simply should have chosen a more suitable method for announcing his decision.
Conventional public relations would dictate that LeBron have first informed the Cleveland Cavaliers out of respect and gratitude for the opportunity that team has given him, despite any shortcomings.
His next move would have been to simply issue a press release to Cleveland's media stating that he wishes to thank the Cleveland fans for years of support; that he would have liked to have brought a championship to the city for them; and his decision to go to Miami is simply because he'd like to win a championship in his career and believes this is his opportunity.
He didn't do this. He did ESPN's "The Decision" instead, which did raise money for charity, but turned into a public relations disaster for James. Most people think that the whole thing was his idea and egotistical. And you can't blame fans in many cities for feeling like they were toyed around with.
His former boss, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert responded to Lebron's move to Miami and method of announcing it as a "...shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own..." He then said that he would bring a championship to Cleveland before LeBron could win one in Miami.
This kind of story line is more typical of wrestling than basketball.
Had James handled the announcement properly, Cavs fans may not have been happy, but they wouldn't have felt hit over the head, and motivated to burn his jersey.
The idea to burn LeBron's Cavaliers jerseys also originated in the media when "... the Cleveland Leader news outlet...suggested a massive "Lebronfire" in which Clevelanders would burn their Cavaliers gear if James announced on ESPN his intention to depart the city." This became the central story line to ESPN's "The Decision." Imagine agreeing to a network's idea for a media event only to find yourself the subject of attack. Interestingly, this is exactly what Jim Gray is known for after his journalistic ambush of Pete Rose in 1999.
Why on Earth did Lebron agree to do "The Decision?" I initially, like everyone else, figured it was ego, King James nonsense.
But after watching it, there's no way it was ego. He was stressed out the entire time. If it was ego, he would have loved the attention. He looked thoroughly uncomfortable with the entire thing.
The final twist to the story, and possible explanation as to why James agreed to the show involves his agent, Maverick Carter, who was the first person on the Lebron side to hear the idea, and liked it because he saw fund raising opportunities for charity.
Several years ago Lebron James fired his agent who was a veteran NBA players representative. In his place Lebron hired his childhood friend, Maverick Carter. While it is incredible admirable to share your fortune with your family and friends, the move was criticized at the time as "a big mistake, a bad decision that is going to cost LeBron" by people in the field who question whether Carter was qualified.
That may have come to pass with the airing of "The Decision". And it's unfortunate, because Lebron impressed me in the interview as someone who does care what other people think or feel. He was miserable. I assume that he was realizing how bad a decision "The Decision" was.
Lebron is obviously not a grossly selfish person, and doesn't deserve the backlash that has followed. And as for his agent Maverick Carter, it's just wrong that anyone should fail so horribly because of a blind interest in helping raise money for charity.
The press got more than they could have dreamed of, scandal. Imagine an institution that values scandal over everything else.
And then there's the public, who are quicker to put a match to a man's image than try to understand him.
The whole thing reads more like an Arthur Miller play than an NBA event and I'm now a Miami Heat fan out of empathy. It will be interesting to see what happens to Lebron's image and brand once he wins a couple of titles in Miami. I suspect the drama of "The Decision" will be long, long forgotten by then.
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