ESPN Pulls Story Showing LeBron James in Full Party Mode
The piece, written by Arash Markazi, a Los Angeles-based columnist, was apparently originally posted at 2:04 a.m. ET. Markazi did not respond to a Twitter request for comment.
ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said the company was looking into the circumstances surrounding the publication of the story, but added, "The story should have never been published. The draft was inadvertently put on the server before going through the usual editorial process. We are in the midst of looking into the matter."
The events described in the story seem to coincide with practices held by USA Basketball in Las Vegas in preparation for the FIBA World Championship this fall.
The story details scenes where James and other NBA players, including New Orleans point guard Chris Paul, Boston forward Glen Davis and Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom were present.
The central part of the piece is centered at Tao, a nightclub and restaurant at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, with depictions of James, surrounded by Paul, four of James' childhood friends, a man who at one time was in a relationship with James' mother, Gloria, and two employees of Nike, his shoe endorser.
Markazi counted a dozen security guards in the area -- five of whom appeared to be assigned to James.
At one point in the story, the writer describes a scene in which a pair of apparently nude women are stationed in a bathtub full of water and rose petals, which appears to be a regular occurrence at Tao.
In another scene, depicted in the picture that accompanies this story, a giant red crown-shaped cake is brought into an area near James while go-go dancers hold aloft placards that read KING.
Markazi describes another scene in which a waiter, apparently suspended aloft by wires, flies in to deliver numerous bottles of champagne. At that point, James reportedly said, "I wish they'd have one of these girls with no panties do that instead of the guy."
The text of the piece was posted on Deadspin and CelticsBlog, but a link to the piece on ESPN's Los Angeles site was inactive.
ESPN has received sharp criticism for a one-hour show, "The Decision," that aired earlier this month in which James announced that he would sign a free-agent contract with the Miami Heat.
The company elected to allow James and his marketing company to sell commercial time during the hour with proceeds going to James' designated charity, the Boys and Girls Club of America. In addition, James selected the initial interviewer for the show.
Don Ohlmeyer, ESPN's ombudsman, was among those who criticized the company for its conduct during the James show, writing:
"Beyond James, it's a cautionary tale for ESPN. If the network wants to be considered the true worldwide leader in sports, it must accept the responsibility that comes with it. As the biggest player in the space, ESPN can establish and give credibility to a story. With that clout, of course, comes the obligation to cover each story not just with journalistic integrity but with appropriate weight -- or risk that very same credibility."
An ESPN source said the decision to pull the web piece was entirely made by the company's editorial staff, with no input or demand from James or his marketing staff.