Saturday, July 10, 2010

ESPN Keeps Suspense Going in LeBron Call

Some thoughts a day or so after LBJ supposedly made his big decision:

* What did they know and when did they know it?

That’s my question to ESPN reporters and analysts after LeBron James announced he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.

I was playing a tennis league match Thursday night when LBJ told the world on ESPN that he was joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to become a member of the Miami Heat. So I recorded “The Decision” for later viewing.

I didn’t feel like I would be missing anything live because all afternoon long ESPN’s Chris Broussard had speculated that James was joining the Heat unless he changed his mind at the last minute.

Of course, I laughed on Tuesday when first word of LBJ’s 9 p.m. Thursday press conference leaked. The idea that the media would get 48 hours to learn “The Decision” and it wouldn’t leak before then was pretty funny in this Twitter and Facebook world.

The announcement that there would be announcement was an invitation or even an inducement to discover the truth.

It was inevitable by the time ESPN's show began Thursday that the world would know where James was headed before he confirmed he was joining the Heat in an interview with reporter Jim Gray.

I just wonder when Broussard and everybody else at ESPN speculating that he was going to Miami really knew and just tried to keep the suspense going.

Perhaps because much of the suspense had been eliminated before LeBron confirmed what he was going to do, local ratings on ESPN weren’t as high as one might have expected.

The hour started with a 5.0 rating here and peaked at 6.4 at 9:15 p.m. when LeBron gave his decision. At that point, ESPN’s ratings were higher than anything that aired locally on a network affiliate. However, the rating slipped to a 4.5 at 9:30 p.m. and a 3.4 at 9:45 p.m. to average about a 5 rating for the hour. That was lower than a “CSI” (6.0) repeat on Channel 4 and a new episode of the Canadian series “Rookie Blue” (5.8) on Channel 7.

The Buffalo rating wasn't close to the national rating, but that's not a surprise. The national number was inflated by the big numbers in the big markets -- New York (No.1) Chicago (No.3) Miami (17) and Cleveland (18) -- that had teams that were in the LeBron sweepstakes.
* Was it just me or did LeBron sort of blame his mother for helping him decide to leave his hometown team? LeBron said his mom advised him to do what made him happy, which made it easier to join the Heat. He should have kept his mom out of it.

It would be hard for some players to still be happy with the knowledge that they would immediately become villains in their hometown. In the short run, James is defining happiness with the opportunity to win titles. In the long run, happiness might have been defined as choosing loyalty over a better opportunity to win titles. We’ll see.

However, the ugly statement that Cleveland Owner Dan Gilbert made about LeBron’s departure almost immediately made the star a sympathetic character in some quarters. No one deserved that kind of talk.

* LeBron noted that that he could have made more money by staying in Cleveland. But let’s be honest. The money he makes playing the game is a bonus added to the millions more that he makes from endorsements.

On the other hand, the decision to leave Cleveland could actually cost him endorsement money if he remains a villain for awhile or if D-Wade becomes a bigger Madison Advertising commodity.

I’m not an accountant. But since there is no state income tax in Florida, I suspect that LeBron actually could make as much money after taxes playing in Miami next year if he becomes a Florida resident as he could have if he stayed in Cleveland.

* NBA Commissioner David Stern is always mindful of the importance of public relations.

That makes one wonder why he didn’t exert his influence with one of the league’s TV partners, ESPN, and tell them to just say no to the one-hour special.

And he might have tried to convince LeBron it was a bad idea.

He certainly should have tried to stop Gilbert from making his statement.

Who knows? Maybe he did try to do all three things.

One thing is clear: The hype-fest tarnished the image of one of the league’s biggest stars, one of its TV partners and one of its owners.

* Now on to the World Cup, which ends Sunday when Netherlands and Spain play for the title on ABC affiliate Channel 7 at 1:30 p.m.

I’ve watched enough soccer over the last few weeks to realize that instant replay might not be the total answer to all the lousy officiating calls. I can’t count the number of times that the game announcers have complained that a bad call was made, only to hear intermission and post-game analysts look at the same footage and defend the call. Clearly, instant replay could slow down the game at an alarming pace.

No comments:

Post a Comment