First, a confession: 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.
I've followed the Bulls at somewhat of a distance during the last two seasons, only picking it up a bit during the stirring seven-game playoff series with the Celtics in 2009 and a little less so while the Cavaliers dismantled them this past April.
So it's with interest -- because clearly, the Bulls would be a better team with LeBron James than without him -- but also with bemusement and in some ways, horror, as I watch mass media, new media and people in general fall all over themselves trying to read the electronic tea leaves and be the first to figure out where LeBron is going to spend the next few years playing professional basketball.
Yes, I'll be watching tonight's ESPN show -- almost comically titled "The Decision," as if it's an election for the leader of the free world or something -- but to be honest, I'm only doing so because I'm the editor of this site. If I weren't, I'd probably find a baseball game to watch. Or read a magazine. Or hope it stops raining so I could go outdoors on a nice summer evening.
The speculation has become beyond ridiculous. Yesterday alone on the StoryStream™ on this site regarding LeBron, we posted no fewer than five updates, which had him: not saying anything, going to the Knicks because Wall Street traders had bid up the shares of the Knicks' parent company, going to the Knicks because a random NBA player (in this case the Suns' Jared Dudley) said so, leaning toward the Bulls because his tax bills are now going to an accounting firm in Chicago, and, just for grins, the Heckler's article saying that LeBron would hold up to 29 news conferences naming the teams he is not signing with, starting with the Timberwolves.
Then last night, says this Sun-Times article, James began leaning toward the Heat:
James reportedly flew to Miami on Wednesday night to meet with Heat president Pat Riley.
Update: My source says LBJ is still in Cleveland, played softball w/ buddies tonight & isn't headed to or already in Miami.
But now, the Twitterverse is convinced he will go to Miami:
Multiple sources are telling Newsday that LeBron James has decided to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. The new Big Three is here.
Can you all see that this -- all of it -- is patent nonsense? This is the logical ending of what I think began with the Woodward and Bernstein stories about Watergate -- which eventually brought down Richard Nixon's presidency and made those two reporters famous and wealthy men. The sports world and politics seem to be the same at times; political pundits spend more time handicapping elections in horse-race fashion than talking about issues, and sportswriters keep looking for the one big scoop that's going to make them famous. What's the big deal here? Is the first writer to tweet the correct team going to suddenly be "the guy" in writing circles? Maybe I should send out six tweets in the next few hours, one with each of the six team possibilities (Bulls, Cavaliers, Heat, Knicks, Nets, Clippers) -- I'm covered then, right?
This is sports media taken to an absurd level. There is one person this morning who knows the team LeBron James will play basketball for next year and for several years beyond, depending on the length of the contract -- and that's LeBron James. All the rest of it is a colossal waste of bandwidth.
Rick Telander, in today's Sun-Times, sums up why this has captured all the attention it has:
It is because our lives are boring, TV is wondrous, basketball is now global, rich, hip-hop guys like Jay-Z have (rightfully) jumped up into moneyed, empowered roles in the NBA, and they know theater. I think of Nelly's fiery lyrics just a few years ago: "Donald Trump let me in now!/ Bill Gates let me in now!"
The NBA is a "players' game," and agents have taken that concept and run with it. To them, numbers are numbers -- on the floor, on the stage.
College ball means nothing anymore. NCAA freshmen are the prize draft picks. Seniors are old men. Imagine, the first senior collegian drafted this year went No. 23. Thus, it's about, again, entertainment, not maturity.
Superstars have realized they can do things as a group, hold entire cities hostage, as owners have done in the past. This current free-agent thing has been almost like the Bosh-Wade-James Secret Santa Club.
James wields incredible power, true. But why -- among other things -- make Cleveland, your quasi-home, a hurting place that has had a greater population loss in the last year than any other major city in the United States, twist in the wind?
Because you can, I guess.
Right. LeBron's doing this because he can, and because the mass media allows itself to get sucked in. As I said, I wouldn't be watching this if I weren't responsible for posting about it.
Maybe you shouldn't, either. We'll post the result here as soon as it's announced (and he says it'll be within the first 10 minutes, which leads me to wonder what they'll waste the rest of the hour blathering about). Maybe a low rating for this show would make sports pundits think twice before this kind of stunt happens again. (And just for the record... yes, of course I hope he signs with the Bulls.)