We May Have Witnessed The End Of Sports History Thursday Night

GREENWICH CT - JULY 08: LeBron James speaks at the LeBron James announcement of his future NBA plans at the Boys & Girls Club of America on July 8 2010 in Greenwich Connecticut. James announced during a live broadcast on ESPN that he will play for the Miami Heat next season. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Estabrook Group)

This photo sums up the whole theater of the absurd: LeBron James sitting in a chair, dwarfed by his image on a huge screen.

Let's say you could time-travel back to 1998, the last year the Bulls won the NBA title with the crew headed by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson, just after they won the title in June of that year, but before that team was broken up.

And you told the Bulls fans and NBA fans you found there that, 12 years later:

  • An NBA star would string along six teams as a free agent, including the team from his hometown, for several weeks before making his choice in a nationally televised show that resembled nothing more than a presidential town hall meeting.

  • The TV network doing this show would have fawning reporters praising each other for how wonderful their speculation about the signing was. (There's a profane phrase that comes to mind describing this; I'll let you think that to yourselves.)

  • The TV network would break a promise to have the announcement made "in the first ten minutes", apparently so they could cram a couple of commercial breaks in the first half-hour; the commercial proceeds are supposed to go to charity, but even that charity must feel used.

  • The TV reporter interviewing the NBA star would ask at least 15 lame and irrelevant questions before getting to the one everyone wanted to hear asked.

  • Once the NBA star spurned his hometown team, the TV network would give national coverage to fans burning his replica jersey.

  • The owner of the team he jilted would write an open letter to the star, blasting everything from his play to his loyalty to his calling himself "King".

  • Opinion about said letter would be sharply divided, but much of the criticism would come because of the typeface chosen to post the letter on the team's website.

Those 1998 fans' jaws would have dropped and they'd have said, "No way."

Well, on July 9, 2010, the answer is, "Way."

My friends, in less than 24 hours one of the NBA's biggest stars, ESPN and the entire league have jumped the proverbial shark.

A scene like the one created in the last 24 hours is beyond absurdity -- yet, in years to come, something else will come along in the professional (or the "amateur" world of college sports, in which "amateur" is simply lip service) sports world that will make people wonder why we made a fuss about LeBron James in 2010.

I don't often agree with mainstream sports columnists, but today, the two Ricks in the Chicago Sun-Times (Morrissey and Telander) nailed it.

Morrissey:

Feeling betrayed? Feeling as if you've been had, played, used, misled?

Feeling as if men in hazmat suits should arrive to decontaminate you?

You should be feeling that way, fool. Join the rest of us suckers who thought LeBron James cared about a challenge.

As his one-hour, prime-time ode to self-indulgence clearly showed, all James cares about is his legacy. He cares about winning only as it pertains to what it can do for him. He's going to Miami, which will have three of the top 10 players in the league in its starting lineup.

The NBA has just turned into a farce, friends.

And that may be an insult to farces.

Telander:

I need a bath. I need a shower. I need a dip in the vermin tank.

LeBron James has made me feel dirty, foul, infested with tiny crawling things that want to creep into my ears and eat my brain.

Players change teams all the time, I know that. Who doesn't? Hello!

But no player has ever done it with the pomp, phoniness, pseudo-humility, and rehearsed innocence of LeBron James and his ESPN bed-mates.

As I wrote yesterday in this space, we have brought this on ourselves with our insatiable slobbering over multimillionaires who live in gated communities and don't care about us for one second except to make sure that we keep buying the incredibly expensive tickets to see them play and purchase the cable and satellite subscriptions to watch them play when we're not seeing them in person and buying the replica jerseys and T-shirts and caps so they can continue to be completely detached from the lives that we the fans who are supposed to fawn over them live.

Another thing I noted in yesterday's feature:

... when Michael Jordan left the Bulls after the 1998 championship and the team was dismantled (because "organizations win championships," one of the dumbest things Jerry Krause ever claimed), I began following the NBA much more casually than I had been during the Jordan Era.

The Bulls may put together a decent-looking team despite being rejected by you-know-who, but maybe it's time to start following them -- and the entire league -- more casually again. This isn't sour grapes; it's rejecting the attitude that created last night's circus.

Enough. Because if they aren't careful, the inevitable end of this will be the crashing down of what the millionaires and billionaires have built; that may not be sustainable in the 2010s, with many still out of work and those who are working less able to afford to pay the huge salaries demanded by the prima donnas.

Enough. Let last night be a unique footnote in sports history, for if it's not, sports might be history.

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