by Andrew Skaggs
The last time I checked, a decision was a simple act of making up your mind about something. However, famous athletes like LeBron James have given the word a whole new meaning. Along with that, of course, came the glaring spotlight of the media to create an attention-hungry, egocentric event of epic proportions.
Superstar basketball player of his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James became a free agent this past summer. This meant he had the freedom to choose between all 30 teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA), for whom he would like to play for in the upcoming years. As the summer went on, all the other high profile free agents had made their decisions, had small press conferences with their new teams, and went on with business as usual.
All, of course, except for James. He decided that a press conference with the team he intended to sign with wasn’t good enough for him. Instead he held an hour-long special edition television program on ESPN called, The Decision. I mean all he had to do was name the team he intended to sign with, and he need an hour on TV to do so? He could have done it in ten seconds and been done with it. Trying to fill an hour with ten seconds of important information is challenging in itself, not to mention incredibly awkward. And awkward was exactly what The Decision turned out to be.
The interview was held in a small, dark gym resembling a place where middle school basketball games take place. There was a stage in the middle of the gym with two seats, one for ESPN sportscaster Jim Gray, and the other for LeBron James. But instead of countless media outlets in the background ready to report the breaking news, there were about 30 elementary school kids sitting in chairs clapping. As if the kids from the Boys and Girls Club really knew what was going on regarding the implications of James’ decision. Either way, once the interview started, with each question Gray asked, the awkwardness grew and grew. The question people wanted answered was where he was going to sign, but 18 questions into The Decision no decision had been made at all. Finally Gray popped question number 19, asking him which team he had chosen. James’ response, “In this fall, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.”
Now I don’t know if this was LeBron’s personal choice of words, or ones read off a script from his publicist, but they were poor either way. Let’s go over the issues with this sentence:
1. “I’m going to take my talents”. Really LeBron? Were you trying to sound as cocky as possible? Don’t get me wrong ─ James is incredibly talented, but imagine going up to your boss and saying, “I’m going to take my talents to another company.” Good luck getting positive feedback on your resume after that.
2. “South Beach”. Are people who don’t follow the NBA supposed to automatically know what team he is going to play for? He didn’t even name a team; he named an up and coming, pop-culture driven neighborhood in the city of Miami. (The Miami Heat are the team he signed with, in case you are not familiar with the NBA team in South Beach.)
I’m sure if LeBron and Co. had a do-over, he’d gladly take a different approach. Too bad he doesn’t get one. Up until this summer, James had a very good reputation with no blemishes on his personal or public record. That changed very quickly after The Decision. The media backlash was severe for the 25-year-old kid from Akron, who left his hometown team in the dust, hurting his personal image along the way. It didn’t stop there however ─ James and his two new teammates, Chris Bosh (also a free agent) and Dwayne Wade (the current star on Miami’s team), held a pep-rally in the Miami Heat Arena that resembled a Backstreet Boys concert in the late 90’s. They rose up from smoke, showed off their new jerseys, slapped high fives, and did a little dancing in between. For this, and many other reasons, the Heat are well on their way to becoming one of the most despised teams of our generation. You bet you can thank Mr. James for a big part of that hatred. And all he had to do was make ‘the decision’.