The Big (Poisoned) Apple: The New York Media’s Blatant Gimmick Coverage of LeBron James’ Free Agency
LeBron James and his Cavaliers face premature playoff elimination down three games to two in their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup against Boston and true to form, the New York media have stepped up their game.
The story begins at the end of the 2005-2006 regular season. Coming off a season for the ages at the mere age of 21, third-year player LeBron James had established himself as more or less the future of the National Basketball Association. Seemingly willing to sign an extension with the Cavaliers and play their cornerstone seemingly for the next decade, the Cleveland Cavaliers looked poised to shed their image of a cursed, ill-fated franchise.
But rather than sign for the typical five-year maximum contract, James held out for a shorter three-year deal with a fourth-year player option, giving him the option to opt out of his contract to test the free agent market and possibly sign with any team willing and able to make a play for him in the 2010 offseason. Long story short, Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert has spent the last four years bent over trying to appease James any way possible while James has playfully teased and entertained potential destination spots. The praising of the rosters of his potential suitors, the wearing of a Yankees cap, the love for Brooklyn and New York City and a seemignly gradual disassociation from Cleveland have 2010 suitors foaming at the mouth and the Cavalier fanbase on edge.
“July 1, 2010 [the day free agency negotiations begin] is going to be a very, very big day.” - LeBron James, November 25, 2009.
The consequence? Well, just take a look at the available cash the following teams have coming into this 2010 offseason, based on an official $56.1 million salary cap figure:
New York Knicks: $34.5 million
New Jersey Nets: $28.9 million
Miami Heat: $23.8 million
Washington Wizards: $21.4 million
Chicago Bulls: $20.4 million
Sacramento Kings: $19.6 million
LA Clippers: $17.9 million
Minnesota Timberwolves: $15.1 million
Oklahoma City Thunder: $14.0 million.
This is unprecedented. That’s nine teams with enough available cash to offer a maximum, or near-maximum, contract to a plethora of top-tier free agents headlined by All-Stars Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, David Lee, Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay.
But the focus of this post is on the relationship between LeBron James and New York (the city and not limited to the team). The New York Knicks have put all their proverbial eggs in this 2010 offseason basket, particularly in LeBron James, and the entire city of New York has been put through two years of James-motivated mediocrity (following a decade of non-motivated mediocrity) in the hopes of nabbing the self-proclaimed “King James” come July.
“I don’t tease; I’ve never teased New York,” James teased.
Now this investment is all fair game, if ill-conceived (but I’ll get to that later). My own New Jersey Nets have been put through a similar situation positioning themselves to nab one of the aforementioned headliners from this year’s free agency class after a complete roster reconstruction effort the last couple of years, punctuated by a humiliating 12-win season this past year, but no team is even close to as heavily invested in this offseason as the New York Knicks. They have $34.5 million to spend which they insist they will spend on two maximum contract free agents, one of which, they assure their fanbase, is James.
Effectively, “LeBron or Bust” has become the mantra not just for the Knicks but for the collective spirit of the city of New York. There is a felt assurance throughout New York City that LeBron is coming. It’s inevitable, it’s palpable. The Knicks faithful are coming off a 29-win season and couldn’t be more excited. It’s 2010. LeBron’s going to be a Knick. It’s become fact. And it’s going to be that much more painful if he doesn’t come.
Blame the media.
This season, the New York Daily News ran a countdown towards LeBron’s free agency on the sidebar of every Knicks-related article they published. ESPN New York was launched in April and they kicked it off with a LeBron-to-New York bonanza. A photoshopped picture of LeBron in a Knicks jersey headlined the newly-minted website with literally dozens of features regarding his surely-fated move to New York. Polling experts on their educated opinions – who in reality can’t be any more aware of James’ mindset as you or I – on where James is bound to land and it seemed every angle was played. If James doesn’t win a championship in Cleveland, he’ll feel the need to look elsewhere… like New York. If he does win a championship, it’ll be easier for him to leave for somewhere else… like New York. He loves the city, loves the attention and is drawn to the business and entertainment capital of the world, NYC. He’s best friends with Brooklyn-born Jay-Z. There’s even an article comparing the duality in LeBron’s persona: basketball LeBron vs. New York LeBron. What?
Here’s an excerpt from an April 2 article on James, written by ESPN-NY’s Ian O’Connor:
To lead the hometown Cavaliers to a title or three? To save the big-market Knicks from themselves?
James should pick Door No. 2. Win, lose or draw in the playoffs, he should honor the magnitude of his game, his persona and his appeal and do a summer deal with the Knicks that would reduce the sale of Babe Ruth to a story the size of a rosin bag.
Only Cleveland’s not quite good enough when measured against New York. This isn’t about the pizza, or the weather, or the nightlife, or whatever default positions writers often embrace when elevating one market at the expense of another. This is about legacy, and one too important to be left in the hands of a New York columnist with an agenda.
Huh. O’Connor is advocating James pass over multiple championships for the sake of restoring a Knicks’ legacy which, save for a pair of championships in the 70’s, was never all that great for such a big-market franchise. Calling himself “a New York columnist with an agenda” is just the icing on the cake. Recycle, reword, republish and that is the formula for every Knick article published the past three months. Which was bearable until recently.
The New York press have upped their ammo quite a bit recently and have shoved in our faces nothing but blatant LeBron-Knick pornography.
Exhibit A: The New York Daily News recently ran a contest “challenging” Knick fans to upload their best LeBron-Knick photoshop jobs.
It made their front page. The front page of a site supposedly dedicated to reporting news. The Daily News also spat out an article asking New York basketball fans whether or not they think James would be moving to New York City or not as well as another ‘faux-letter’ to James in which they argue that James needs to come to New York because, uh, he seems like a New York kind of guy. That miraculously made it past an editor’s desk… because the entire sports staff contributed to it.
Exhibit B: New York Magazine’s superbrochure.
Basically, this is the collection of all things wrong, conveniently placed on one page. Writers Will Leitch and Ira Boudway put together a variety of articles all easily accessible and organized in this one link. Each ridiculous. I chose to approach each one on its own.
- Greatest city in the world
- Storied history and franchise
- It’s all Isiah Thomas’ fault the Knicks suck and he’s gone
- We hired a guy to track all your likes and dislikes
- We tried and failed to sign Jason Kidd and Grant Hill last year… but for you, LeBron!
- Why not give them that one? Don’t see the relevance but sure, go New York.
- Long history, sure, but two championships in the 70’s for a New York team? Come on, who are you kidding?
- Isiah’s gone, Knicks still suck. Meanwhile, you have four committed contracts for next season, no draft picks for two years and your best young player, David Lee, is probably leaving this year.
- Speaks for itself
- You can make more money in New York than in Cleveland… by far
- If you start winning here, you’ll get so many endorsements
- Your Nike contract doubles if you play in New York
- False. A six-year contract extension with Cleveland would make James more money than a max contract deal with New York… by about $20 million
- The article says itself, “Players at [LeBron’s] level are going to make money anywhere. We live in a digital age. The NBA’s marketing department will throw its weight behind superstar players wherever they areand the people who make decisions about endorsement deals generally follow their lead.” And then ‘justifies’ this by effectively saying, “But never mind that!”
- Myth debunked long ago.
- Your Cleveland roster is nice but you can win several championships with the Knicks
- Ignore our current roster, we’ll fix it for you
- Cap space!
- No justification
- Oh! In that case…
- We’re gonna get Chris Bosh! Chris Bosh!
- You’ll never play with someone of Bosh’s caliber in your career
- No evidence
- Or he could sign with the Nets (Lopez, Wall (?), Harris), Heat (Wade) or Bulls (Rose)
D’Antonni gets his reputation from his success with the Phoenix Suns from 04-08. This offense? Literally, he told his players defense was optional and to shoot the ball within seven seconds. He pushed for a trade for Shaquille O’Neal then, when that didn’t work out, blamed it on the general manager, packed his bags and picked up a $6 million per year paycheck from Donnie Walsh.
The rest of the articles make my head hurt just by looking at their headlines, which basically speak for themselves:
- We have famous celebrity fans
- Our nightlife beats Cleveland’s
- Your other potential employers all have warts
- We’ll name a street after you
- We’ll name a sandwich after you
- Imagine a documentary of your career in New York in eight years
The point I’m driving at isn’t that LeBron shouldn’t go to New York; they still have to be considered favorites for the James sweepstakes if he decides to leave Cleveland which has looked more and more likely with each passing playoff game against Boston. But when it’s evident there’s blatant product feeding — appeasing the masses for the sake of sales –, flagrant gimmicking, unashamed bias and when it’s clear misinformation take precedence over integrity, it’s disgusting. At this point, you’re hurting your readers.