He hasn't killed anybody.
That's what I remind myself when I think of LeBron James and I find my blood starting to boil and my hands starting to reach for sharp objects. He hasn't killed any man, any woman, any dog. He hasn't been arrested on charges of domestic violence. He hasn't brought a loaded pistol to the arena.
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So why am I starting to loathe LeBron James?
His announcement Thursday night on ESPN -- not just an announcement of where he will play next season, but an hour-long mental masturbation about the wonder of LeBron -- did it for me.
And I was already leaning this way. Bet you were, too. Even some of you in Cleveland, where you've loved LeBron for years, surely have been turned off by the most egomaniacal offseason since Alex Rodriguez's agent hijacked the 2007 World Series to announce his future plans. This has been worse than A-Rod. This has been worse than the annual offseason Brett Favre retirement melodrama, of which we're in Summer Six.
This has been disgusting. This has been repulsive.
This entire episode has been beneath someone as mature and savvy as LeBron James, which means he's not nearly as mature and savvy as I thought he was. So really, this comes back to me, and to you, and to the seduction of star power. We wanted to believe the best in LeBron James, because he was the best basketball player we'd ever seen.
And so we overlooked the casual way he'd discuss himself in the third person, a garden-variety ego boost that everyone does anyway. We overlooked his more unique brand of narcissism of November 2008, when he reminded the media that his free agency was coming in almost two years, and that whatever happened in the NBA between now and then was irrelevant. "If you guys want to sleep now and don't wake up until July 1, 2010," he said, "then go ahead. It's going to be a big day."
We overlooked the way he walked off the court after Game 6 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, his season over, his feelings hurt, his ass showing as he refused to shake hands with the victorious Orlando Magic.
We overlooked the way he ended this season, sticking a cheap stamp on an envelope and mailing in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston and then -- literally minutes after his final game of the season -- announcing that "my team" would have much work to do. And by his "team," he didn't mean the Cleveland Cavaliers. He meant his agent and marketing rep and shoe guy and all those other slithering creatures that comprise the boot-licking posse from hell.
We overlooked all of that.
|LeBron James has surpassed Alex Rodriguez and Brett Favre in the race for biggest ego in sports. (US Presswire)|
You knew that, but even if you'd somehow forgotten, James reminded you by creating a Twitter account earlier this week -- in advance of his hour-long special on ESPN -- and calling it King James. Within two days his account had more than 220,000 followers. Why? Because we're a society of sycophants. That's why.
So anyway, the King needed his hour of ESPN, and I don't fault ESPN. Lots of people in the media, and beyond, are wringing their hands over ESPN's decision to hop into bed with James, but the way I see it, ESPN has gone to bed with more athletes than a groupie. What's one more?
Besides, this is the biggest bang since the Milky Way. James' free agency is the most newsworthy sports story since Tiger Woods' sex scandal. And this enormous story dived headfirst onto ESPN's groin? Of course ESPN gave him the hour. They'd have given him two if he'd asked for it. They'd have renamed the channel LeBronSPN for the night. And so would mine, I bet. CBS would have put LeBron's eyeball into our logo, had we been given a shot at this story. So don't blame ESPN for this.
Once upon a time, Michael Jordan was an NBA free agent. Then he retired to play baseball. Then he came back to the NBA. Then he retired again. Did he hijack a network to make any of those announcements? He did not. And not only was he a better individual talent than James, but he was a better team player, too, considering Jordan won six championship rings and James has won, let me see ... none.
A-Rod signed the biggest contract in the history of U.S. sports in 2001, then did it again in 2007. Did he need a TV special? He did not. Brett Favre gave his scoop in 2008 to Fox News, but that was an interview -- interviews happen every day -- not an hour-long devotional.
True, James' marketing team is selling sponsorships for this TV show, with the proceeds going to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, but don't be a sucker. That's not magnanimous. That's guilt money. That's James trying to win the P.R. campaign, blunting the blow of this blatant ego boost by hiding behind a charitable cause.
I've been fooled by James and his spin before, but not this time. He'll earn $1 billion or more before his time on Earth is done. If he wants to raise money for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, he could write a check. Don't let James play you for a fool. He's not using this hour to raise money for someone else.
He's using it to celebrate the summer of LeBron.
None of this makes him a certifiable bad guy. But it does make him pathetic.