“The Decision,” the now-infamous telecast that featured LeBron telling the world he was “taking his talents to South Beach,” made LeBron one of the most hated athletes in America. But did LeBron really deserve the blame for what turned into an hour-long fiasco for his image? Earlier today Deadspin’s Emma Carmichael, drawing on an excerpt from an upcoming book about ESPN, pointed out that LeBron may have been nothing more than a participant in something that was engineered by others:
[Jim] Gray was using Carter for access to his client, who in turn was using Emanuel for access and logistics. Emanuel was using both to get close to a superstar athlete and, as the Los Angeles Times put it, “poke a finger in the eye of a rival agency,” Creative Artists Agency (which counts LeBron as a client.)…
Gray complained that ESPN tried to wrestle some creative control of the idea he came up with away from him, and ESPN Executive VP of content John Skipper called the deal “his fault,” saying “I put it together, and then I turned it over and let those other guys execute it.”
The entire “Decision” fiasco was the result of a ludicrous political game involving Jim Gray, ESPN, Maverick Carter (who, to be fair, LeBron hand-picked to run the business side of his life), and Ari Emmanuel. But as Carmichael astutely notes, LeBron himself seems to actually have had very little to with the decisions that led to “The Decision”:
Maybe the most remarkable part of the section is that LeBron James, the man who was thrown in the stocks for the crime of committing bad television, is hardly mentioned at all. He was a prop in a pressed shirt. Gray’s job was to smile and nod on camera as the two orchestrators stood off-stage, as ESPN began its rapid retreat from the wreckage, and as we all watched in pathetic outrage. LeBron became the villain for something that, in the book’s telling, the suits had perpetrated. It was never his Decision to make.
“The Decision” will follow LeBron around for the rest of his career, fairly or unfairly, and we don’t know how it will ultimately effect his image and legacy. All we really know is this: LeBron is seven wins away from making “The Decision” and the resulting fallout a much smaller part of his public image than it is now.