Is this what the 24-hour news cycle has done to us?
Once upon a time, free agency became “news” when a star player in question actually made a decision—a decision, I remind you, that involved considerations for the player’s family, future financial well-being, preferred climate, work environment, as well as potential team chemistry and player-coach relationship.
Back in the glory days, July 1 was unceremoniously noted as the beginning of the free agency period, and then everyone returned to their lives until it was determined where the star would land.
Unfortunately, those times are no more—clearly.
First and foremost, let me say definitively that I do not care what destination LeBron discloses in the unprecedented made-for-TV event to air Thursday night.
While, in my humble opinion, it would be best for him to return to Cleveland and trust in his hometown franchise to return the favor with a talented supporting cast, this decision is LeBron’s alone.
If he wants to fulfill a lifelong dream to play in Madison Square Garden, that's great.
If he wants to team up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami, that’s fine, too. (Though while I’m on the subject, do you really think any one of the three will care about how winning titles with other superstars has “diminished his legacy,” when they are trying to figure out whether to put a fifth ring on the thumb or to split them up three and two? No, me either).
The point is, wherever he goes, it will have been an excruciating, well-considered choice.
I am not concerned with LeBron’s choice, though.
Rather, what has me troubled is how the media—not just limited to sports outlets—has been utterly saturated with this story for a week running.
What we have seen over the course of the last seven days (and, to be honest, well before that) is a manifestation of the new age of journalism.
When non-traditional sources of media (i.e.Facebook , Twitter, weblogs, as they were once called) emerged in the past decade, they were supposed to represent an unburdening of information.
If news was not constrained by the entrenched format and reputation of traditional mass media sources, our democracy and everyone in it were supposed to benefit.
The marketplace of ideas would be fully unleashed, with the best ideas and best reporting free to bubble to the top of our collective consciousness.
Instead, we get LeBronomania…and the “reporters” who have perpetuated it should be ashamed.
I understand that, to an extent, a writer/personality must give an audience what they want, but it is also true that it can be controlled.
LeBron’s free agency is symptomatic of larger problems in sports journalism (and, in a general sense, all journalism), but it neatly encapsulates where we’ve gone astray.
First, the Twitter race.
With pressure to be the first to “break” a story, and thus promote one’s own reporting brand, Twitter was transformed this week into a sports reporting pissing contest.
And worse yet, it was a pissing contest with all anonymous sources, zero verifiability, and zero believability.
You know what I’m talking about: “Sources close to LeBron say he is going to Chicago.” Or Miami, or Cleveland, or Greece, or Mars, or whatever.
No longer is any value gleaned from ensuring a source is reliable, and therefore, that the reporting is solid.
If you hear it, throw it on Twitter—maybe you’ll attract some new followers!
Look at that, Chris Broussard has 37,000 followers! Oh, J.A. Adande has upward 58K!
This is true not just for the LeBron situation, but for all of sports reporting: You get your name on the ticker only if you were the first to guess correctly.
Hell, Stephen A. Smith made headlines when he wildly threw out a completely unsubstantiated opinion!
Beyond all that, however, many of these reporters, lost in their immersion in LeBron-watch, are willing to be egregiously hypocritical.
The same guys who lambasted James for not being selfish in taking the last shot in a regular season game, now cannot ridicule him enough for “The Decision,” a show that, albeit contrived, is for a good cause.
But essentially, my question comes to this: Has the need to fill 24 hours of airtime (or a quota of blog posts) really led us to a world of wanton speculation without regard for truth or the person in question?
I’d love nothing more than for LeBron to take the microphone tonight only to announce he’s still undecided, leaving us all to take to our Twitter accounts to interpret what that means for everyone else.
Lamentably, this would not solve the ills of reporting we saw come to fruition in full force since the turn of the month.
No, the one thing that can be reported with certainty in this whole scenario is that the NBA free agency period of 2010 has made us all look like jesters in the King’s court.