It has been almost two months and I still cannot talk about the NBA Finals. In the most un-Hollywood of endings, the bad guys won. It only took two seasons. With their victory, the Miami Heat and Lebron James saw their vision come to fruition. Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh seemed to work the system into an easy championship and I hate them for it.
It is great fun to root against the Heat. They represent all that seems wrong with the current crop of NBA superstars…too empowered and entitled to boot. I took great pleasure in seeing Lebron and the Head fail in the 2011 Finals. I think everyone outside of Miami did. I said along with others, “see, it is not that easy. You can’t just put together your own all-star team and win.”
But now, the Heat are NBA Champions and I have had a lot of time to reflect on not just their victory, but why I hate them(particularly Lebron) so much in the first place. Of course, there is “The Decision,” where Lebron seemed to lack tact and decency in making a spectacle over signing with the Heat. Then there was the WWE styled introduction, where the newest “Big Three” announced that winning would “be easy.” Then there was the commercial, where Lebron tried to make himself the victim regarding his decisions. There was the 2011 NBA Finals where Lebron and Wade openly mocked the health of Dirk Nowitzki, before shrinking under the pressure of the moment, again and again.
But then in hit me. None of these things are the real reason behind my hatred for all things Lebron. It was not the spectacle, the attitude, or really anything having to do with Lebron himself. No, there was and is a much more sinister driving force behind my hatred for Lebron….ESPN.
You see, I am a dying breed in this day and age, a sports fan that actually cares about sports. You know, sports themselves…who won the game and how. ESPN decided years ago that sports themselves took a backseat to the story and the drama involving those characters who happen to play sports. Gone are the days where you could turn on ESPN during the day and actually watch sports. I remember in my youth thoroughly enjoying watching an amazing variety of sports. The network filled their programming hours with everything from 18-wheeler racing, to professional wrestling to ping pong tournaments.
Since then, ESPN has devolved from a sports network, displaying actual competition, with an occasional episode of Sportscenter, to drama filled, argument laden news network. I used to be able to turn on ESPN and watch a minor league baseball game. Now, all I get are multiple repeats of Sportscenter, intermixed with a half dozen shows where blowhard talking heads yell at each other incessantly about topics largely irrelevant to the actual performance and outcomes of sporting events. ESPN’s big draw now is Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith yelling at each other over which free agent may go where and who would make the biggest impact in theoretical trades. This transition to overblown madness is exactly why I came to hate Lebron James.
I first found out about Lebron’s impending free agency on an episode of Sportscenter in the spring of 2007. 2007! That would be a full three years before Lebron would become a free agent. Instead of giving air time to more coverage of the NBA Playoffs or analysis of the young baseball season, ESPN dedicated time to a free agency of a player in the middle of a fantastic playoff run, still very far away from becoming a free agent.
As the months went on, Lebron’s pending free agency went from being a story, to the story on each episode of Sportscenter. Endless hours were spent trying to figure out what Lebron would do. Each time he would visit a city as a visitor, which was a possible landing spot, the talking heads would argue about how good of a fit that city and team would be for Lebron The closer he got to free agency, the louder the yelling became and the worse things got. By the summer of 2010, I had become so sick of the story, I found it hard to turn on ESPN at all.
Then came the “Summer of Free Agency” and “The Decision.” Forget that Kobe had just won his sixth title in a great series with the Celtics. Forget the baseball season, where teams played actual games. ESPN had free agents to discuss. Free agents who would play their first games with those teams in three months! ESPN followed Lebron to each of his stops, giving it the importance of Franklin Roosevelt landing at Yalta for a peace conference. Then came the decision itself, which of course was a horrible idea to being with, but which aired in primetime on ESPN. After what seemed like seven hours of buildup, Lebron finally announced that he would be taking his talents to South Beach.
This is not to say that Lebron is without blame. He certainly did not have to fan the flames leading up to his free agency by pulling such stunts as wearing a Yankees cap while in New York(oh how ESPN ate this up). Nor did he have to answer questions surrounding his free agency at all, much less in a way which only incited people, particularly ESPN people, with vague, misleading answers. But I am willing to chalk a lot of that up to a young man getting caught up in his own hype, which is understandable, if not forgiveable.
I recently read an article in which the author forgave ESPN for its excess coverage of such topics as “The Decision” and “Tebowmania,” by stating that a 24 hour sports network is in and of itself excess and that the network will keep covering sports in this manner as long as the ratings are there. This is very true and so long as fans keep tuning in, then nothing will change. But for this guy, enough is enough. I will continue to enjoy the actual sports show on ESPN, as well as their fantastic documentaries. But I will not be tuning in anymore as they overblow such topics as potential Dwight Howard Trades or Brett Favre. Maybe you will be with me here, because only then will we see change.