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ESPN Trades Integrity for Ratings With James' Special

Jul 7, 2010 – 11:15 AM
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Milton Kent

Milton Kent %BloggerTitle%

LeBron James and ESPY in 2004Now that ESPN and LeBron James have effectively climbed into bed together with Thursday night's one-hour special, "The Decision," is the Worldwide Leader out of the running to report where James will sign?

It's a valid supposition, what with the ratings bonanza ESPN is guaranteed to get when James' special airs. For any of ESPN's NBA reporters -- including Chris Broussard, who initially reported news of the special, apparently without inside information from ESPN executives -- to go on the air before 9 p.m. ET Thursday with confirmed sources saying where James is going, would take considerable sheen off the special, and reduce some of the viewer pool, not to mention draw the enmity of James.

Of course, that's not going to happen. ESPN and James have had a cozy relationship since he was a high school phenom in Akron, Ohio, and the channel was airing his games there with precious little context about who he was and how important he was to the grand scheme.

Indeed, the situation got even more snug Wednesday when ESPN announced that Stuart Scott, every NBA star's favorite cheerleader, would host the special, "The Decision," flanked by analysts Jon Barry and Michael Wilbon, who interviewed Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh Wednesday on SportsCenter. Jim Gray will interview James, during which time his choice of teams will be revealed.

The channel announced through a release that James has secured the University of Phoenix, Bing, McDonald's and Vitaminwater as sponsors, while Nike and Sprite, two products that James endorses, will make contributions to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the charity that James tapped to receive sponsorship dollars for the special.

Still, ESPN has not disclosed who is producing this special, how much lead time it will have to vet the special to ensure that it meets their standards (insert chuckle here). They also need to make clear whether this will become operating procedure going forward, that a star athlete or coach will be able to circumvent the normal announcement process with ESPN's complicity.

James isn't entirely blameless in this, either. He certainly has no responsibility to the concept of good, responsible journalism, but this whole idea smacks of narcissism run amok. If you didn't know better, you'd swear that James is trying to revisit his high school days and stage one of those cheesy announcements where a kid sits in front of a packed gym of sycophants and holds up one hat of a prospective school after another before finally donning the cap of the place where he's headed. James gets some credit for funneling proceeds from the evening to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, but he could accomplish the same result by writing a check and sparing everyone the voyage into his ego.

Ultimately, however, the target for responsibility hangs on the backs of ESPN executives who signed off on this. By accepting James' entreaties, ESPN executives have clearly made the determination that relationships and ratings are more important than journalistic integrity.
Filed under: Sports