Despicable Me: The LeBron James Story Just Will Not Die

Bryan FlynnAnalyst IJuly 13, 2010

I know writing this will lead to some backlash, but I do not perceive a player leaving and an angry owner and fans to be a race issue.

The hoopla surrounding Lebron James is a story that just won’t go away.

Maybe it’s the fact that it's summer, and there is not much to talk about. Maybe it’s the fact that ESPN is doing everything in its power to defend itself.

There is no question that since LeBron decided to commit career suicide on national television by airing his decision that this story is not going away. In fact, things have gotten uglier since LeBron made the announcement.

One would think that the sports world would move on over the weekend with the Major League Baseball All-Star break coming up. Or maybe it would focus on the World Cup with the third place game and final over the weekend.

But noooooooo!

This story has become the basketball equivalent to the "Will Brett Favre return or won’t he?" saga. This story even has its own Rachel Nichols sighting.

Nichols is normally reserved for sitting on Favre’s lawn in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, but she has joined this cluster of a mess. Her softball interview with El Tri (my name for the Heat’s unholy trio) has aired on SportsCenter.

As if this story could not get any worse: Now Jessie Jackson has gotten into the act and played the race card on Dan Gilbert’s open letter to Cleveland Cavaliers fans. Really, this is the issue for Jackson to come out of his hole to rail against?

Jackson’s reaction to Gilbert’s letter went like this: "He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers," the reverend said in a release from his Chicago-based civil rights group, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. "His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship—between business partners—and LeBron honored his contract."

Once again, millionaire sports stars are made out to be slaves. If these guys are slaves then sign me up for the job, I would love to make millions and declare harsh treatment.

It is Jackson’s contention that Gilbert’s letter put LeBron in harm’s way.

The problem is he never says what that harm is.

Gilbert never told fans to attack LeBron or his family. Gilbert never asked fans to break the law and assault James.

What makes this worse is the fact that the talking heads at ESPN never mentioned race Thursday night after the Gilbert Letter. Moreover, the talking heads from Bristol and around the ESPN world never mentioned race Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

All of a sudden Jackson makes this a race issue, and then ESPN—especially Michael Wilbon of Pardon the Interruption (PTI)—makes this a race issue. Wilbon on PTI said he thought this as soon as he saw the letter but on his show the next day he never mentioned it.  

In fact, no one on ESPN mentioned race and LeBron until Jackson did on Sunday.

How do I know this?

Over the past four days, I've watched ESPN and read wondering how they would react to being a part of the decision LeBron made to air his divorce with his home state in a one-hour special.

One thing is for sure, Gilbert could have done better than the letter he released. It read like the rantings of a scorned lover after an ugly break up. Gilbert looked even more like a starter wife with his opinion that LeBron quit in the playoffs.

Cleveland has to feel like the wife who works to put her husband though medical or law school only to have him leave once he starts making good money.

James built his brand with the Cavaliers, winning two MVP awards and making one finals appearance. Then, the first chance he has to start over with a new, younger, sexier woman he bolts to Miami. Cleveland is the high school sweetheart who did everything to help him be something in the lean years only to be betrayed on national TV.

Not that there were lean years for LeBron once he turned pro. No matter what LeBron did he was protected from major criticism in his home state. No one wants to dump on the local kid who does well.

Back to the point at hand. ESPN has tried to do everything to defend LeBron after getting into bed with him on his one-hour special “The Decision.”

The problem was hardly no one has been buying what ESPN is selling.

Stories from ESPN talking heads J.A. Adande, stating there was no collusion/tampering between James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh are laughable. Of course, there was collusion or tampering on the part of the players.

There was talk since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. Two years ago, we knew that these players were waiting for the free agent period of 2010 to team up. Now Adande and the rest of the pro-LeBron talking heads are in denial of this well-documented fact.

Jumping in to defend James was Scoop Jackson, who said that James “decision” was not new or as bad as other decisions.

Then Scoop pulled the Alex Rodriguez card.

Sure A-Rod took the Texas Rangers' money over winning and loyalty to the Seattle Mariners. Everyone was surprised, and they ripped him over it.

Then when A-Rod wanted to go to a winner and picked the New York Yankees, he drew even more ire—just like James. However, no one thought the Yankees would be A-Rod's team in contrast to those who now seem to think the Miami Heat will be James team.

The Yankees had superstar Derek Jeter, who is without question the leader of the Yankees. A-Rod has done nothing to make himself even slightly more likeable since leaving Seattle, except in the eyes of New York fans after winning a championship there.

Scoop even tried to say that Michael Jordan would have done the same thing.

I have just one thing to ask Scoop: Did you see the Hall of Fame speech Jordan made?

If you saw it, you know there was no way he would have ran to another team to play with his friends on a four-year play date like LeBron did, or that he would not wanted to beat the crap out every other superstar in the NBA. It was not in Jordan’s make up to sit back and let someone else be the man.

His “Airness” was still feeding on the wrongs in his life, no matter if they were real or imaged. No matter how much we disliked Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech it showed what made him so great.

ESPN was clutching at straws trying to defend James. The answer to its prayers was Jesse Jackson making this a race issue.

That magically gave ESPN’s talking heads the right to spend all day today defending James with even more vigor. It gave Wilbon the license to describe Gilbert as a slave master mad because one of his cotton pickers ran away.

James, instead of keeping quiet, decided to speak out against Gilbert. As if going on national television and kicking a city square in the groin was not enough. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh have to keep on opening their traps instead of letting things die down.

Yes, all three have the right to defend what they think but instead of letting things die down, their public relations directors must have stayed on vacation and let them do more interviews.

This comes after Friday night’s horrible introduction that ESPN smeared all over the air waves. Where a player from Akron who has won nothing was counting just how many rings this group would win. The same introduction where a player from Toronto, who has never made it past the first round, tried to act like he truly was a superstar in the NBA.

The point being is that LeBron has done nothing to help his image. Gilbert has done nothing to help his image, saying James quit in the playoffs this year.

Jessie Jackson has done nothing to help race relations by playing the race card on this issue. Jackson seems to forget that we as a country have elected a president of mixed race.

Much has been made of the fact that Gilbert was from Michigan and moved to Ohio. Well, I looked it up and Michigan voted 57.4 percent for Barack Obama and Ohio voted 51.2 percent for the current president.

No matter what Jessie Jackson or Wilbon want to think, this is about betrayal and divorce.

This is not about race at all.

The sad part is after the South Africa World Cup, Jesse Jackson could have learned a lot from Nelson Mandela. The former political prisoner could have destroyed a country ripe with racial hatred but instead chose to try to heal it using sport.

Jackson has done nothing but use sport to hurt race relations. One hopes one day he learns to be more like Mandela and less like himself. 


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