Thursday, July 08, 2010

ESPN sells its soul for James story

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - Few remember when ESPN launched in 1979, the letters were actually an acronym for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

Yep, the fledgling ESPN actually ran movies, business shows and exercise videos in between SportsCenter. Needless to say it wasn't a great mix and the station slowly evolved into the juggernaut it is now. Today, however, they are closer than ever to that original acronym.

The Worldwide Leader is pure entertainment these days, not that there is anything wrong with that. Real world news outlets have followed suit to a degree. On big days FOXNews' Glenn Beck records over three million viewers, second only to Bill O'Reilly despite airing during the afternoon. And, Beck occasionally has more viewers in the all important 25-54 age bracket than O'Reilly, a stunning accomplishment for a 5 p.m. (et) program.

More entertainer than political pundit, Beck at least has the courtesy to call his show a "fusion of entertainment and enlightenment."

The best bet still points to LeBron James signing a short-term deal with the Cavaliers.
In our current media culture that features the 24-7 news cycle, bloggers and Tweets, there is a fine line between a news gathering organization and an entertainment vehicle. ESPN is painfully close to fully selling out and going strictly entertainment after agreeing to televise LeBron James' dog and pony show on Thursday, where the biggest prize in NBA free agent history will finally make a decision and chose which team he'll play for next.

"Sources" told ESPN's Chris Broussard that James would announce his decision live on the cable network during a 9 p.m. (et) special. Flip on the channel right now and you will see something akin to a cable infomercial, hyping the event at every turn. The only thing missing is the late Billy Mays.

I understand wanting ratings, the be-all, end-all in the television industry but at what point does ESPN's ombudsman introduce journalistic integrity into the conversation?

Those same "sources" in the programming department feeding Broussard won't even let us in on where the special will be emanating from, despite the fact that the network surely has to tell its camera people where to show up and block off satellite time.

The only explanation is that ESPN doesn't want any reporters reading the tea leaves correctly and breaking a story that it sold its collective soul for.

I almost expect the network to put the teams in the running for James' services, his hometown Cavaliers, the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers and New Jersey, on an island and have challenges and immunity on the way to the big prize.

Or maybe it can put Donnie Walsh, Pat Riley and company on a stage and have LeBron hand the winner a single rose.

Either way, the only winner will be James' fed and placed ego.

The loser? How about journalism.


1. - Cleveland Cavaliers: Less than 24 hours ago, LeBron was reportedly trying to convince Chris Bosh to join him with the Cavs but the big man must have had a few close calls in The Flats since he agreed to play with "The King" anywhere other than Cleveland. Bosh's decision to relocate to Miami put the Heat and Knicks back in the mix and threatened to destroy the Cavaliers franchise. That said, hopping on national television and stabbing the city that has done so much for you would be public relations suicide. This whole ordeal doesn't exactly speak to James' savvy when it comes to p.r. but you have to believe someone in his inner circle has some common sense. The best bet still points to a short-term deal in Cleveland so James can stroke that massive ego again in a few years.

2. - Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade has successful recruited his friend Bosh to South Beach and now both players are reportedly trying to convince James to form the Holy Trinity in the party capital of the East Coast. The question is can James handle playing Alex Rodriguez to Wade's Derek Jeter on the Heat?

3. - New York Knicks: One report has James advisors Maverick Carter and Randy Mims in New York and the Knicks, who looked dead in the water 48 hours ago, are now back in the hunt. James would team with Amare Stoudemire and possibly Raymond Felton in the Big Apple, turning the Knicks from an also-ran to an instant 55-win team.

4. - New Jersey Nets: Owner Mikhail Prokhorov has reportedly been partying in Turkey while team spokesman/minority owner Jay-Z was in London for a concert on July 4 and is scheduled for another show in Ireland on July 11. You would think if the Nets thought they had a shot at LeBron, the big boys would be back in the country.

5. - Chicago Bulls: LeBron lackey Wes Wesley was pushing the Bulls from the get-go but he's clearly lost power in James' inner circle and the fact that Bosh chose Miami over the Windy City seems to have sealed Chicago's fate. The Bulls will likely now turn their attention to Carlos Boozer or David Lee.

6. - Los Angles Clippers: Unless Vinny Del Negro is LeBron's long lost cousin, the Clippers are the one team you can kick off the island right now.

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