This is the last trip down memory lane about the decision, but this is more than worth it.
Gray said that he’s upset people lie about him. Especially when they say that LeBron paid Gray to do the interview. Gray said that he didn’t get paid at all … it was for charity. “I wasn’t going to be the only going to be paid,” Gray said.
Gray also said he was surprised by the backlash, especially because this wasn’t easy for LeBron.
Dan asked Gray what LeBron’s mood was like before. ”You could tell this wasn’t something was easy for him,” Gray said. “It wasn’t jovial. There wasn’t any champagne or any corks going off. … I think it was a tough deal for him.”
Gray thinks it was harder than people realized for LeBron to leave Cleveland. “I think he tried his best to stay a Cavalier,” Gray said. “I think it was hard for him to recruit anyone….”
Dan asked if he could have a mulligan, what would he do differently. Gray said he wished that he explained why they were at the Boys’ and Girls’ club.
I still think it’s amazing — and speaks to how in touch everyone around LeBron was with the reality on the ground — that they were surprised by the backlash to the show. As if they think it’s all about not going to New York or Chicago or wherever. As if they explained the charity part better it would have changed the perception.
On the eve of a lockout that — if it does end up costing games — will kill the momentum around the league, let’s look back at the thing that helped create all that momentum and the increased ratings: LeBron James’ Decision.
The television show sparked interest from casual fans that carried over to increased television ratings this season, increased attendance and a real uptick in popularity of the NBA. Sure, much of it may have been people tuning in to root against the Heat (and thereby adopting Dirk Nowitzki as their own), but there is no doubt that is part of what fueled the increased interest in the league.
The backlash of The Decision caught the creators of the show by surprise, they told Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated in a fascinating look at how the production of the show came together.
(Mark Dowley, former partner at the William Morris Endeavor agency who helped set up the show in Greenwich): We got a lot of grief for it. A good deed never goes unpunished, you know? LeBron is an exceptionally bright young man. No one is taking advantage of LeBron James. And Maverick Carter is a very bright guy. I’ve done deals with them since and we’ll do deals with them in the future. Everybody can hold their heads up high. The only people who know best about how they felt [about the criticism] are Maverick and LeBron. There is no way they enjoyed a lot of the aftermath. I do know morally and from a socially conscience standpoint, they know they did something good (for the Boys & Girls Club).
The guy who really got wronged was Jim Gray. The whole original idea was Jim’s and Ari’s and Maverick’s. I thought Jim did a hell of a job. He’s quite a gentleman. This was sports, after all, not U.N. wartime reporting. People just got a little nuts over it.
Gray only got wronged if you thought the idea of announcing where a basketball player would play next season in an hour television broadcast was a good idea in the first place. It wasn’t. Instant reaction in the public at the time — before anyone knew where LeBron was going to play, just the reaction to idea of a special to make the announcement — was an obvious precursor to the backlash that followed. The fact nobody else helping put this together anticipated this kind of reaction speaks to how in touch they really are with the feelings of fans.
Go read the entire SI report, there are fascinating details on the event itself. How LeBron did not sign autographs for the kids at the club (he was on too tight a schedule, people say) and how the kids really flocked more to Kanye West anyway. How Greenwich was chosen because it was seen as neutral ground. How it was apparently the Greenwich police that leaked the location that those involved had tried to keep secret.
In the end, those involved are proud of the money raised for the Boys & Girls club. And that is no doubt a noble cause and the money has and will be put to good use.
And the NBA has seen a bump in business in part because of it. Does all of that end up making it a good idea to do The Decision? I personally still can’t convince myself it was.
The one-year anniversary is just over a month away.
As television, “The Decision” ranks somewhere up there with “Manimal” and “B.J. and the Bear.”
But unlike those Neilson losers, “The Decision,” to a degree, continues to rate as meaningful media.
From this travesty, there actually has been a payoff.
Thursday, as he prepared for Game 2 of the NBA Finals, LeBron James again spoke of how the medium was perhaps not best for his message when it came to that nationally televised announcement that he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in free agency. But he also spoke about a message that might have been lost in the equation, but one that still resonates 11 months later.
Not only was $2 million raised for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America with the broadcast of his announcement at a Greenwich, Conn., club, but James said dividends continue to be paid.
“Of course it overshadowed what my main objective was, which was rightfully so, I understand,” he said, yet again distancing himself from that awkward moment.
“But it doesn’t matter. These kids are benefitting from it. There are so many clubs that are opening, not only here in Miami, but Cleveland and Akron and New York, Los Angeles.”
James said he has visited several club, increasingly appreciative of the mission.
“They get an opportunity to not only shed light on themselves, but to their community they’re in, to try to get them off the streets, after school,” he said. “And that’s the main thing. That’s when a lot of bad things happen with kids, after school, they don’t have anything to do. The Boys & Girls Club of America have done a great job and I’m just glad I was able to be a part of it and to shed light on it.”
Of course, he’s now keeping many of those same kids up way past their bedtimes.
Asked if he felt the youth of America are watching him to the finish of these games that are approaching midnight in the East, he said, “Absolutely.”
“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.