Witness Protection Program: Notes from My LeBron James Camp Confiscation
Apparently, Nike taking my tape at the LeBron James Skills Academy was a big deal yesterday. I had no idea because I didn't have access to a TV or computer until I got home at 4:30 p.m.
I left Cleveland this morning to drive back home to Rochester from LeBron James' camps in Akron and Cleveland and starting receiving a ton of calls/texts about the King turning dictator.
Colin Cowherd was talking about the tape. ESPN First Take was talking about the tape. So was Scott Van Pelt, and the story was all over the Internet.
Thanks and apologies go out to my girlfriend who "sat home watching boring ESPN when What Not to Wear was on TLC" to keep me updated. Her lack of sports knowledge can be epitomized by a text that read: "Why is Joel Osteen on ESPN?" Um, that is Skip Bayless, honey.
I wrote a more formal statement about the incident, but here are some more fun random notes from the experience at the LeBron camp:
I spoke to LeBron seconds before he told Nike executive Lynn Merritt to take my tape, while he was waiting for his next game to start:
Me: Hey LeBron, my name is Ryan Miller. James: Nice to meet you, where are you from? Me: I just graduated from Syracuse. I'm actually friends with ____ (ironically, we have a mutual friend). James: Yeah, Jonny is my man. Good luck with everything.
I really thought we bonded there and had a conversation we could build on, but right after that: James gets a drink. James gets a towel. James talks to Lynn Merritt.
- The best part about the dunk was the reaction from the crowd. Eighty high school players were watching, along with a few dozen media members and camp employees.
Xavier's Jordan Crawford blows by Danny Green on the right wing to get into the lane, LeBron helps on defense, leaving his feet to contest the shot and Crawford throws it down with two hands.
There was the initial collective gasp that comes before raucous applause on a bigtime play...but then no raucous applause, just small buzzes of murmuring between adjacent spectators.
Camp employees and instructors wore shirts that read "Witness" throughout the week, and players donned LeBron James Skills Academy jerseys or the "Witness" tees.
Everyone in the building was a witness, but they know not to cheer a play when the victim's name is eponymous with the camp they are attending. You just don't do that to arguably the greatest athlete in the world, in his hometown, at his own event.
No ovation, just a gasp and near silence.
- I awkwardly checked the garbage cans in Rhodes Arena's concourse, but to no avail.
- I ended up following Jeff Goodman (FoxSports.com), Gary Parrish (CBSSports.com) and Pete Thamel (NYTimes.com) from Akron to Cleveland, where the King City Classic is held, to grab a late dinner.
There were dozens of D-I coaches roaming the hotel and somehow I ended up at a dinner table with UCLA head coach Ben Howland (not just the two of us, that'd be a little awkward).
When it came time to pay, Howland insisted I don't, saying I provided them with a great story for the night instead. I tried to explain to him I have a six-month grace period on my loans, and now is the time where I have a few bucks in my wallet. So I'm pretty sure Ben Howland bought me dinner.
- I have a history of bad luck with Nike:
1) While driving to my internship last summer, a lady parked on the side of the road decided to open the door on her brand new SUV as I was driving by, smashing and totaling my car. Her occupation: Nike corporate marketing employee.
- I don't even know how well I filmed the dunk. I am positive that James called out "Lynn" to Merritt and spoke briefly with him before Merritt immediately approached me, presumably upon James' request, demanding I give him my tape. I'm not positive the dunk was their motive for asking for the tape.
Nike's response was the game was not "after-hours," it was during the regularly scheduled "College Workout No. 3" portion of the LeBron James Skills Academy. The session ran from 8:30 to 10:15 on Monday night and the filming took place during that designated time slot. I checked with media relations earlier in the day to go over rules and regulations for filming and was cleared to film all day. There is no mention of a video policy in Nike's media guidelines.
- I never intended for James or Nike to take any heat for taking the tape or sought publicity from it. I probably would've posted it as an afterthought in an article regarding the performances of Syracuse recruits at the camp and it never would have escalated. I just wanted my footage back so ESPNU wasn't ticked off I didn't come through with what I had promised them. The story grew legs when Goodman and Parrish reported it (those crafty, experienced sports journalists).
- It is unfortunate James and Nike didn't take a Devin Harris-like approach to the situation. It would've garnered James respect for laughing it off, promoting the heck out of his camp, and given a relatively unknown Jordan Crawford to most college basketball fans the credit he was due.
She said at the time to contact her if I ever wanted a job with Nike...I don't think that offer is still on the table.
2) I buy and wear Nike sneakers but for some reason the arches hurt my feet (haha).
The only reason I gave it up was because the media relations rep. from a third-party company said he would take it to pacify the Nike execs and he'd give it back to me in the morning. It turns out Merritt asked him for it personally afterwards.
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