Friday, July 9, 2010

Comparing the LeBron James Spectacle With How a Real Man (Kevin Durant) Handles His Business


Is this what happens when you have been worshipped since adolescence for your physical skills? Does this spectacle resemble any of the young pop music/starlets who seek publicity at any cost?

Should I ask for a one hour show on a cable network the next time I decide which job to take?

I see very few people, if any, questioning LeBron's decision to "take [his] talents to South Beach, and, uh, join the Miami Heat," but almost everyone is questioning how and why he decided that he needed to do it in prime time, in a one hour show devoted to his 2 second statement.

When I heard about the one hour special, I thought, what the fuck? Seriously? Even satirist Andy Borowitz made fun his ode to narcissism:
Millions of Americans huddled around their televisions Thursday night, transfixed by the spectacle of an incredibly wealthy man getting a new job.

In living rooms, bars, and restaurants across the country, a record audience gathered to watch the rich guy announce who would be signing his massive new paychecks.

In New York's Times Square, Tracy Klugian, 27, was one of thousands who braved the blistering temperature to watch the multimillionaire reveal the location of his new employer.

"I wouldn't have missed this for anything," said Mr. Klugian. "For anyone who considers himself a fan of the rich getting richer, this was must-see TV."

Jack McCallum at Sports Illustrated, prior to "The Decision," had some thoughts:
I have not been immune from the protracted free-agent pornfest. I've made a few phone calls and dropped a few hints to sources that I would love to be the one to announce LeBron's destination, get my name on that endlessly spooling crawl across the bottom of the TV. But all the while I've been a little heartsick, half-angry and half-sad at the devolution of this process, what it says about the NBA, the cult of celebrity that has overtaken our country and the whole out-of-whack state of sports journalism.
And this . . .
But the big story, of course, was LeBron, who, drunk on the magnificence of his own LeBron-ness, is utterly clueless of how ridiculous this whole process has been, the monumental amount of self-importance attached to scheduling a one-hour show when you have zero championship rings and, at last glance, were seen folding like a beach chair against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy termed the whole LeBron tease "almost like a parody of itself," which would be accurate if he removed the word "almost." I'm sure Team LeBron is claiming that "The Decision" is mostly about raising money for charity, but here's a simpler way he could do that -- take a million or two of the 100 he's going to get and write a check to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. And if he's already done it, do it again.
Saying this whole spectacle was a parody of itself is an understatement. The decision had been made probably weeks ago, if not longer (like when they played on The Dream Team together). Yet he visited several teams, each of which thought they had a shot at King James. Silly them. LeBron was playing all of us - and he succeeded.

ESPN had the best ratings they have had for anything that is not the NFL (7.3 share overall, and 9.6 from 9:15 to 9:30, the period when James actually said he was Miami-bound).

As far as money is concerned, everyone comes out of this pretty well - ok, except Cleveland, who will go back to being a third-rate basketball city - and all the businesses that thrived due to LeBron's presence will also suffer. OK, that's business.

But I continue to be amazed that James thought he needed a prime time show to announce his decision - this is the kind of thing a president does when the nation goes to war, not the kind of thing an athlete does when he changes teams.

By comparison, on the same day James had his ESPN spectacle, another major NBA star sent out Twitter note to his followers announcing he had signed a contract extension for five years and $86 million - and he wasn't even a free agent, yet he signed for an additional five years with no early termination option, a common clause for long contracts.

He's 21-year-old Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder (who used to be my Seattle Sonics).

Durant at his summer camp for kids.

This comes from Jonathan Abrams in the New York Times:

At the age of 21, Durant became the youngest player to win a scoring title, averaging 30.1 points last season to edge out James. He finished second to James in the most valuable player balloting after helping the Thunder to a major one-year improvement. Oklahoma City arguably provided the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers with their greatest playoff challenge in the Western Conference, with a tough six-game series.

“It means that they’re really committed to what I believe in — and that’s the team first,” Durant said. “And I’m excited about it and honored that they gave an extension.”

The commitment extends both ways. Offering Durant a maximum extension was a no-brainer, but Durant was not a free agent this summer. With an uncertain economy and a small market, Oklahoma City could have tried to save money by waiting for a new collective bargaining agreement after next season.

LeBron James made it to the N.B.A. Finals by his fourth season - but he has not found his way back to the promised land. Kevin Durant begins his fourth season this year - and he no doubts wants a shot at the title, as well. His young team pushed the Champion Lakers to 6 tough games this past season, and it may be only the Lakers who stand between him and his shot at the Trophy.

My guess is that Durant gets his ring before James does in terms on years in the league - and he'll do it through loyalty, quality play as a part of a team (rather than as The Chosen One, of The King), and he will do it quietly, without an hour-long prime-time show devoted to his Decision.

While LeBron has been acting like an entitle little child in a man's body (which may be how he earned the Man-Child moniker in his high school days).

Meanwhile, Durant is building a Hall of Fame career, happy to be in a small market seeking to build a team with him and several other young guys as the foundation.

This is how a real man does it.
Durant Playing for Team USA

Benjamin C. Klein at the Bleacher Report thinks that Durant is the new King, the one player who be the next Michael Jordon, or at least let us forget him for a few minutes now and then.
I believe that he can make us forget Mike, and be a true King. Unlike a young LeBron, Durant has several things going for him that LeBron didn’t with the Cavs. Durant already has his Pippen, a young point guard named Russell Westbrook. Heck, Durant already has his Horace Grant in Jeff Green. LeBron had Darius Miles early on. Durant also has a good coach, a fantastic general manager, and an owner that only meddles in marketing. LeBron had none of that early on in Cleveland.

However, it’s not just the external factors that make me believe Durant will succeed where LeBron has failed. Durant, unlike LeBron, seems less interested in marketing appeal and more interested in the game. Durant was on the bench during summer league play this last week cheering so loud you would swear he was a cheerleader. Durant breathes basketball; LeBron only seems to breath the things that basketball gives him.

So mark it down ladies and gentleman, July 8th 2010 will go down as the day The King of the NBA abdicated his throne, too weary from the pressure. And if we are lucky, July 9th 2010 will go down as the day the new King, King Kevin Durant, took the crown and never looked back.

Just how clear is it that LeBron has (1) abdicated his position as King James, and (2) didn't really anticipate what his decision would bring?

Point #1: Andy Ostroy, Huffington Post:

The second-coming of Michael Jordan has curiously chosen instead to be the second fiddle of Dwayne Wade, the Heat's one-man offensive machine who'll now also be joined by former Toronto all-star forward Chris Bosh (Gotta hand it to Miami president Pat Riley for bagging the top three free agents of all time). But as anyone with an ounce of basketball knowledge will tell you, Wade is not going to change his style of play for Lebron. It's his team, his town ("Wade County") and his game. Which begs the question, why on Earth would James take a back seat to Wade? The truth is, James, who was feeling the pressure to live up to the "the greatest of all time" label, does not see himself the way fans or the media does. He does not believe he's the caliber of player of Jordan and Kobe Bryant, who've won six and five NBA championships respectively. His decision to cede top-dog status to Wade is a de facto admission that he cannot carry a team and win it all on his back; that he's not "the man" like Jordan and Kobe, and now clearly, Wade.

I tend to agree - this agreement suggests that none of the three are The Man - they each have realized they cannot carry a team to a title on their own, something Phil Jackson has gotten Jordon and Bryant to buy into on his way to 11 NBA titles.

Miami is not even the best basketball choice according to many sports bobbleheads, including me - Chicago has a more balanced team that is ready to give him the title he wants so badly - and he would still be King James, rather than the Prince of Wade County.

By the way, I don't think Durant is The Man either - the difference is that Durant knows he needs a quality team around him to win a title - for a long time, James seemed convinced he could do it alone.

Point #2: Mark Kriegel at Fox Sports:
“The Decision’s” first authentic moment ... came as Michael Wilbon asked James for reaction to the sight of his erstwhile fans in Cleveland now burning his jersey.

He wore an unmistakable expression of shock. You could see it finally dawn on him, this new reality. A media event born of the power struggle between CAA and Endeavor/William Morris had quickly devolved into one of those old-school wrestling interviews. Apparently, the possibility of jersey-burning hadn’t been addressed in any of the memos. In their zeal to hatch the perfect plan, the King’s minions had underestimated the backlash. Without even having to dye his hair, LeBron James had suddenly become the biggest heel in American sports.

“I can’t get involved in that,” he said. “This is a business.”

You could almost see James’ thoughts, as if they’d been superimposed in neatly lettered in cartoon bubbles over his head: BUT I DID EVERYTHING RIGHT! THEY’RE CHANGING THE RULES ON ME!

I wonder what he thought might happen in Cleveland? Did he think they would support his decision and thank him for the memories?

The way he staged this whole spectacle was arrogant, egocentric, and insensitive to the people who have loved and supported him in Cleveland and the rest of Ohio. An hour-long "fuck-off" to his fans? Of course they are burning his jersey - his home might be next.

In the end, the younger Kevin Durant comes off looking the like the more mature man, or at least the one who knows how to handle his business in the right way.


~C4chaos said...

wow! very detailed analysis and stringing together of articles on this topic. love the comparison with Kevin Durant.

here's another perspective that I find insightful.

"Don't get mad at LeBron James... because we all had an assist in making him feel larger than life."

next season will be really interesting...


JeweyLama said...

I absolutely LOVE your blog and tune in almost daily for your insight into the cultural evolution of men and women. I find the articles you site and the input you provide on them very relevant to your site and your cause.

All that for the downside... this was the first article I felt you were a bit too hypercritical on, since you are typically so balanced in your views.

For starters, Kobe has never carried a team to a NBA Championship on his own. He failed miserably in the years between Shaq and Gasol in LA. The Lakers roster houses equivalently huge talents to the Miami Heat post Lebron/Bosh signing.

Also, Jordan was not a humble man, but as many witnessed first hand, uncensored during his hall of fame induction, he was very bitter and motivated by scorn. Durant is a far more humble man, it appears, and his approach to winning and to being an NBA superstar seems to be much different than MJ. Not to mention, their playing styles are very dissimilar.

As far as Lebron goes, the hour special was ridiculous in my opinion as well, BUT... this was a perpetually fueled fire by fans and media. This was the nature of the 2009-2010 NBA basketball season. We all knew that big players would become free agents, and Lebron is without a doubt, the biggest of these players. Sometimes, we tend to forget that superstar athletes and celebrities are real human beings. He is just a 25 year old guy who happens to be the greatest talent I have EVER seen on a basketball court, and therefore has been WORSHIPED by fans and media alike since we became aware of his existence. We built a monster and now we want to bring him down. Sounds all too familiar to me.

Anonymous said...

Yes it was theater of the absurd. And yes Kevin Durant seems like a fine gentleman. However I found it disturbing that you wrote this without properly acknowledging the millions of dollars raised for the Boys and Girls club by feeding the public's desire for this spectacle.

Yes it's ridiculous but the media and the public eats it up, and the NBA encourages it so at least give the man some acknowledgment for channeling all that foolishness at least in part towards helping kids.

william harryman said...

Yes, he raised some money for the Boys and Girls clubs - not millions, though.

And he could easily have written them a check for a million or two and skipped the theatrics - the "fund raising" aspect is how they justify the narcissistic spectacle, it was not the reason they did it.

Between the money ESPN spent, and the money LeBron spent, they could have given tens of millions to the Boys and Girls Clubs - but then doing the right thing is seldom rewarded with big TV ratings.