While Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert may have won some fans, and even more detractors, for his stinging letter about LeBron James’ departure to the Miami Heat, some of the sharpest vitriol Thursday night came from sports media writers aimed squarely at ESPN’s one-hour special devoted to James’ free agency decision.
The special was largely panned, and rightfully so. Most industry insiders agree that ESPN was right to air the special, but that didn’t keep many — including this reporter — from swallowing hard at a lot of what transpired.
Foremost for me was the lack of journalistic integrity from Jim Gray. How any “journalist” sits there and goes along with a script without asking the only question anyone cares about for what seemed like hours was shameful. The bottom line: Gray was not a journalist but a pawn for ratings, stretching out the made-for-TV event as long as he could — or as long as ESPN told him to. As I wrote on Twitter during his drawn out interview before finally and mercifully asking LeBron where the hell he was going, Gray’s reputation was dropping by the minute. And as former ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann put it on Twitter: “Jim Gray, my pal, I am about to retroactively take Pete Rose’s side.”
Outside of the few real basketball fans in South Florida, it seems that there were not many winners on the night, even as TV ratings may be strong for the show. But from LeBron James to Jim Gray, when it is all said and done some may be asking about those ratings — at what cost did they come?
Here is a sample of the reviews of the ESPN show:
“The news that James was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat could have been handled with an announcement or a tweet but instead was blown up into an hour-long, prime-time TV special that was anticlimactic at best. At worst, it was the most embarrassing 60 minutes since Magic Johnson’s late, unlamented talk show The Magic Hour.”
Watching the LeBron James reality show on Thursday night, I gained a new respect for TV’s Amish in the City and Temptation Island. This was not a good night for sports television, even if the ratings turn out to be big.
“Gray could not stop the inane foreplay and turned a simple Q&A into a tortured interview. Who cared, before hearing where James was going to play, how many people knew his decision, when he made it, whose advice he listened to, or if enjoyed the recruitment process that he orchestrated? Only one thing mattered: his decision. But ESPN was ultimately at fault.”