In LeBron James Love Affair, Media Knows the Score

LeBron James Takes Center Stage in

In fawning relationship with Miami star, ESPN still stands for 'Enabler of Narcissists'

LeBron James is arguably the best current basketball player on the planet. And that’s a shame, since his career has been emblematic of practically everything that’s wrong with the sport, and especially the media’s relationship with it.

The Miami Heat star will appear in his third consecutive NBA Finals starting Thursday, having won a first elusive title last year. He has spent much of his life in the media spotlight, from ESPN televising his participation as a high school phenom in the McDonald’s All-American Game to his announcement that he would leave his hometown, Cleveland, and “take my talents to South Beach” live on national television, in a special ESPN dubbed “The Decision.”

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At every turn, James has operated with cool efficiency but also an utterly mercenary aura. College? James was lucky enough to precede the NBA’s “one and done” rule, dispensing with any need to participate at the amateur level. Loyalty to a city or franchise? Far from it, James essentially promoted himself to general manager, orchestrating a trio of all-stars with the Heat’s Dwyane Wade and fellow newcomer Chris Bosh.

Perhaps foremost, James (anointed “King” long before he ever donned an NBA uniform) has finally proven himself to be a winner — validating his move to Miami, if not the manner in which it was handled — which tends to gloss over all ills. As the New York Times’ Harvey Araton noted in a column that almost comically leapt over the NBA Finals to speculate about James’ future, “even one title is enough to win back the capricious mainstream.”

When it comes to setting up media storylines, James has also found the perfect opponent in terms of contrast this year in the drab San Antonio Spurs, a team whose three aging superstars – Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli – have remained with the same franchise for the duration of their careers. As the Times observed, it’s a rare display of loyalty by both talent and management, in a world that often seems to shower most of its attention on city-hopping free agents and stars in flashier media markets.

Indeed, the Spurs have long been something of an anomaly, a winning team from a modest-sized town, functioning with little buzz or sizzle. The players seem to focus on basketball, oddly enough, not endorsement deals; Nike wouldn’t bother to build a campaign around them.

The Spurs’ return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007 has triggered expressions of admiration, true, from the likes of the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay, but there’s little doubt they are the supporting players in this upcoming primetime drama. And the NBA is no doubt breathing a huge sigh of relief it wasn’t left with a mid-sized market showdown between San Antonio and Indianapolis, which extended the Heat series to seven games.

The Heat’s victory not only spared the NBA from that ratings-deflating prospect but ensured the Finals will be another LeBron-a-thon, with a great plot line for the media to plumb, win or lose.

For James, who dealt with criticism and for a time occupied the bad-guy role after “The Decision,” since Miami started to win (chalking up not just a championship, but ratings for frequent national TV exposure) the attention has been mostly fawning, particularly from analysts like ABC/ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy, who began touting the super-team as indestructible only a few weeks into their union.

In the eyes of others more prone to restraint and sobriety, the bitter aftertaste from the spectacle that was “The Decision” lingered awhile, with then-Los Angeles Times columnist Mark Heisler accurately dubbing ESPN “the enabler of narcissists.” Then again, in this reality-TV age, far better from a marketing standpoint to be colorful jerk than a boring nice guy.

By that measure, if LeBron James’ career and relationship with the media demonstrates anything, it’s a variation on a line from “The Magnificent Seven. Although in this case, it’s not the farmers, but only the narcissists who have won.

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  1. matt says:

    -“LeBron James is arguably the best current basketball player on the planet.” This is not arguable, the only people who would argue that are people who hate Lebron or woefully ignorant individuals, nobody active holds a candle to him at this point.
    -“And that’s a shame, since his career has been emblematic of practically everything that’s wrong with the sport, and especially the media’s relationship with it.” That’s a pretty open-ended, vague comment. I’d ask what’s “wrong with the sport,” but after reading your article I’m afraid your answer would be just as ridiculous. I love the sport and I’m not alone.
    -“Loyalty to a city or franchise? Far from it, James essentially promoted himself to general manager, orchestrating a trio of all-stars with the Heat’s Dwyane Wade and fellow newcomer Chris Bosh.” James gave Cleveland SEVEN YEARS of his career where the best they ever did for him was get him Antwan Jamison? An archaic Shaq? In other words they did nothing for him. So many people drag his name through the mud like he was the first person to ever make a move through FREE AGENCY! Get over it, that’s the way the NBA works. Also as a previous commentor said James is not the one that “orchestrated” that, and it wouldn’t matter even if he had.
    -“validating his move to Miami, if not the manner in which it was handled — which tends to gloss over all ills.” He owes nobody but himself validation, he isn’t doing this for you or me, he’s doing it for himself. If you didn’t like “The Decision” that’s your problem, I sure watched it because I wanted to know where he was going, I bet you watched it to right? You have no right to complain about it if you watched it.
    -“the drab San Antonio Spurs.” The Spurs are anything but drab, they are the eptimoe of team basketball. They have a top 5 player of all time in Duncan and a top 3 coach of all time in Popovich. There’s only 2 types of basketball; “team basketball” like The Spurs, and “star basketball” like The Heat, and you apparently aren’t a fan of either?. Yet you use other peoples recycled opinions that we’ve all heard before, namely the media of which you are clearly a part. Do you even watch the NBA?
    -“the Spurs have long been something of an anomaly, a winning team from a modest-sized town.” San Antonio has a population of about 1.3 million people, which makes them about the 7th most populated city in a country with approximately 19,000 cities, and this somehow makes them a “modest sized town” in your opinion?
    -In the eyes of others more prone to restraint and sobriety, the bitter aftertaste from the spectacle that was “The Decision” lingered awhile, with then-Los Angeles Times columnist Mark Heisler accurately dubbing ESPN “the enabler of narcissists.” You are no different than ESPN or any of the media who runs their mouths like the lot of hypocrits you are. The media made him a bad guy, but then again the media made “The Decision,” and the media is backing him again right? So really who is serving their own angles? To name call somebody a narcissist, somebody you don’t know and haven’t met, is “emblematic of everything that is wrong with the MEDIA.” Also a perfect example of why you shouldn’t write about basketball. I would rather be labeled a narcissist than actually be a willfully ignorant hypocrite.

  2. Frank W says:

    Narcissist is the last thing LeBron can be accused of. If anything, it’s the doing of ESPN.

    Also you failed to mention LeBron’s bad relationship with the home team management. His contract was up and Wade asked him to come to Miami and they got Bose, too.

    I also think the Heat have shown more class than the other teams during the playoffs.

  3. josh smith says:

    Right because one person has to stay in the same city their entire career. I’m sure you’ve been writing for Variety your entire career. I’m sure you’ve never changed magazines or that would make you a hypocrite. Sports is supposed to be entertainment so if ESPN wants to publicize it who cares. Lebron did donate all $3,000,000 in proceeds for “The Decision” to charity which of course you fail to mention. Most NBA stars don’t go to college for more than a year and if you were about to make tens of millions of dollars I doubt you would either. Your a stubborn old hypocitical old man Brian Lowry. Stick to fashion or whatever this magazine writes about.

  4. Keith says:

    What a ridiculous article.Maybe you should leave the sports writing to the people who actually follow sports.

  5. JCF says:

    Actually James did not “orchestrate” the trio of all stars. Pat Riley and Dwayne Wade did. I have no idea why he is looked down upon because he wanted to move to a team where he could win some championships. He could have taken a lot more money, and received a lot more attention, if he went to New York, Chicago, etc. He took less money, and in effect less attention, by aligning himself with two other stars who could help win titles. Regarding San Antonio, who is to say any of San Antonio’s big three would have stayed in San Antonio if they had not won any titles?

  6. brett s says:

    how many drug arrests? how many battery arrests? how many profanity laced rants (roy hibbert)? how many gay slurs on national television? how many dollars given up for the betterment of the team? how many times has he committed a crime or been accused of one? how many dollars donated to charities world wide? how many dollars from the decision alone went to boys and girls club of Cleveland ($1,000,000)..hmmmmm seems he’s not all that terrible after all…makes me wonder why wouldn’t nike want him endorsing their products?

  7. Ken says:

    James has a tattoo that says “The Chosen One.” I think that says everything I need to know about him. I’m surprised it was not included in the article.

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