Like it or not, LeBron James' 'Decision' is all part of the plan, and it's working

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James_numberone.pngWhen word broke that LeBron James would be announcing his decision regarding the biggest free agency signing in NBA history in a one-hour special on ESPN, the criticism exploded the internet like Brazil going down in flames did to Twitter.

Everyone and their mother wants to point out LeBron’s ego, his unfathomable self-concept bent out of control. The word “ridiculous” has been used about a zillion times along with other nastier words. James is construed as being overly self-important by the same people who have posted thousands of stories over the last week about him. Believe me. I’m one of them.

And I’m here to tell you that James’ decision surely strikes of arrogance. And it strikes of super-ego and not in the Freudian sense. It reeks of a media culture gone overboard, having lost any sense of perspective or rationale, and it cries out a desperate need for attention from one of the most powerful men in sports.

I’m also here to tell you it’s genius. And that it’s exactly what LeBron James should do.

Recognize that the people who are saying they won’t watch this debacle, who are filled with outrage over James’ little dog and pony show? James doesn’t need them. Doesn’t care about them. They’re going to follow what he does anyway. He’s already got them. These are sports fans and media who are dialed into the NBA. They know enough about James to dislike the way he chews his nails on the sideline or his mannerisms in interviews.

You know how they know those things to dislike them? They watch him. All the time. They’re immersed in sports media. And so those people have nothing James is trying to reach. They are not his target with this. If they were, he’d simply release a statement or leak it to the most convenient reporter, many of whom are currently criticizing him but would beat their own mother with a roll of quarters in a sock to get word of what jersey James is rocking next season.

He’s got no use for us, because he already has us.

But you know what he does have use for? Everybody else.

James has often had the term “global icon” tied back to his business goals and branding image. It’s a strong term and one that has a lot tied to it. It’s difficult for a sports entity to reach that kind of level, especially in a day and age where things live and die in a matter of months (the Jonas Brothers were a really big deal two years ago; cower in fear Justin Bieber). Athletes have an even more difficult row to hoe. Most of the brand expansion opportunities are controlled by their team, by their league, by the networks that air the games they play in. They don’t have that much power on their own. But James and his team have recognized this moment and are using it as a launchpad that will directly put them on another level with the people that matter most. Casual sports fans.

Thursday night, in the middle of the NBA offseason when nothing is really going on in the actual sport, 90% of all sports bar televisions will be turned on LeBron James. In Kansas City, Missouri, a local bar called Lew’s is having a “LeBron James Watch Party.”

There is no NBA team in Kansas City. Nor in St. Louis, or anywhere close to nearby until you hit Oklahoma City.

That’s how much impact James’ event is having.

Try and imagine tomorrow night, as all across America, all across the world televisions are flipped to ‘LeBron James Presents: The LeBron James Show! Starring: LeBron James!” People who don’t even normally watch the NBA, who didn’t catch a lick of the Eastern Conference Semifinals will be seeing his face everywhere. Everyone will be betting on where he goes, talking about his personality, even discussing how ridiculous the event is, even as they keep watching. Boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, spouses, brothers, sisters, business associates of people that want to watch will all get caught up in it, even for the hour. He’s the most famous person in America tomorrow night. Think about that.

You know who doesn’t care if something is a complete circus? The ringmaster. Because he’s counting your hard-earned bills after you’re done staring at the Bearded Lady.

The show is being sponsored by Vitamin Water, McDonalds, and Nike. That’s the kind of push he’s getting. Yes, those are all James sponsors. But you don’t think Burger King, Red Bull, or Reebok wouldn’t have jumped through fire to get spots? He’s donating the proceeds to charity, which means that when it plays to the casual fan, it softens the blow. Sure, bloggers and pundits and NBA die-hards will retch at the spectacle, but the middle-class father of two, sitting at home flipping channels and watching after he heard a guy from work talk about it? It plays well with him.

And that’s what James is shooting for. It makes him more than just a basketball player. What he does matters. So much, that you and all your friends remember where you were when he announced who he was signing with. It’s too much. Of course it’s too much. You have to be too much in order to get penetration in the biggest niche market of all: everyone else.

You can be disgusted by it, you’re well within reason to. But also bear in mind that James’ pursuit is something more than what just being a great basketball player can do for him. He wants to have a business empire that extends beyond the fans that buy his jerseys and cheer for him at games. He wants a place in the cultural and business atmosphere that is rarefied and extremely difficult to reach. It takes an inordinate amount of planning, expense, and effort to execute.

Thursday night, Lebron James can put himself on the map in a way few athletes, few people, ever have. The world stops for him tomorrow night.  We can turn our cheek or up our nose or whatever we’d like but this isn’t about a handful of people, it’s about the world.

And right now, King James has it in the palm of his hand.

Sonya Curry: Former Hornets owner George Shinn cautioned players against interracial marriage

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All-Star Weekend in Charlotte was a wonderful celebration of North Carolina’s enthusiasm for basketball.

At center stage: The Curry family.

Dell Curry played for the Hornets. While in Charlotte, he and his wife Sonya Curry raised future NBA players in Stephen Curry and Seth Curry. Those four featured prominently throughout the weekend. Stephen played in the All-Star game. He and Seth competed in the 3-point contest. Dell headlined a shooting competition for charity. Sonya even made a halfcourt shot.

But not all their memories in Charlotte were happy.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

When Dell Curry was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1988 NBA expansion draft, the Currys experienced more racism. The Hornets were owned at that time by George Shinn. Sonya Curry, who is a fair-skinned African-American woman, recalls Shinn erroneously thinking she was a white woman and not liking the fact that one of his black players was married to her.

“The owner called in another player, a white guy player who dated black women, and said, ‘We drafted you. We know who you like to date. But we just want to tell you to really be careful about letting people see because Dell Curry is married to a white woman and we don’t know how people are going to take them either,’ ” Sonya Curry said. “The player was like, ‘You are not going to believe what they just said.’ I was like, ‘What?’ Just the assumption of what I look like and all that.”

Shinn was loathed by Hornets fans even before he moved the franchise to New Orleans. This provides just another reason to dislike him.

Even if Shinn were merely cautioning his players that other people might object to interracial marriage/dating – the most charitable reading of this – it’s still awful. Put the burden of change on the people perpetuating racist standards, not the victims of that racism.

Adam Silver on trade demands: ‘That’s not the kind of media interest we’re looking for’

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CHARLOTTE – Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis have taken turns dominating the news cycle with trade requests.

“That’s not the kind of media interest we’re looking for,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

The NBA even fined Davis $50,000 for his trade request.

“I don’t like trade demands, and I wish they didn’t come,” Silver said. “And I wish all those matters were handled behind closed doors.”

I’m sure Silver dislikes all trade demands. But in context, I think he meant specifically public trade requests. Because trade requests are quite common. Deep-bench players often ask to get moved, hoping a new situation will increase playing time. Those requests rarely become public.

But Irving’s, Leonard’s, Butler’s and Davis’ trade requests all did. Yet, only Davis’ drew a fine.

It seems the difference was Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, putting his name behind it. Irving, Leonard and Butler leaked their trade requests through anonymous sources.

“I think it’s perfectly appropriate, that conversations take place behind closed doors, where players or their agents are saying to management, ‘It’s my intention to move on for whatever reasons,'” Silver said.

The distinction is practically nonexistent. Irving, Leonard and Butler could claim only the least-plausible of plausible deniability, and none of those three really tried to deny it, anyway.

Insisting on this level of secrecy is a disservice to fans. If a player requests a trade, he shouldn’t be punished for revealing it. The NBA usually engages fans through openness – but not here.

Silver said he was worried about the worst-case scenario – a player not just requesting a trade, but refusing to honor his contract. However, the Collective Bargaining Agreement already has rules in place for that. Someone who withholds playing services for 30 days after training camp begins faces suspension and fines, won’t accrue a year of service and can’t become a free agent the next offseason.

For what it’s worth, Davis never threatened to hold out. In fact, he repeatedly said he wanted to keep playing if not traded. Unhappy players continue reporting to work all the time. This is not a unique situation.

Silver’s stance also also raises questions about transparency that are particularly relevant as the NBA embraces gambling. Either a player has or hasn’t requested a trade. If he has and the information is kept private, only select people will know it – and those people will have an edge in betting.

Public trade requests aren’t pretty. Neither Davis nor the Pelicans nor teams trying to trade for him appear happy with the fallout.

But I’d prefer that honest uncomfortableness to hidden tension.

Perhaps, Silver disagrees because public trade requests can create tricky situations for him. Right now, he’s still overseeing what Davis and the Pelicans do the rest of this season.

“It creates, understandably, a very awkward position between the team and their player and what their role is with the league in terms of injecting itself in the middle of what a team’s decision on playing that player,” Silver said. “These become very context-specific issues for the league office and not subject to computer programs that spit out answers.”

I agree there’s rarely an easy answer. But I’d rather lean toward transparency.

Davis decided he’d prefer to leave New Orleans. It’s his right to feel that way.

It should also be his right to disclose that to whomever he wants.

Report: Lakers ‘a little concerned’ about LeBron James’ health

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LeBron James could have returned far sooner from his groin injury, according to his agent.

As LeBron sat, the Lakers fell further in the standings. Did he wait until he was fully recovered, anyway? Or did he just wait as long as he felt he could before needing to carry the Lakers back into playoff position?

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

The Lakers are privately a little concerned about LeBron. Is he fully healed from the groin strain that cost him a career-worst 18 games? Is he going to pick up his intensity and propel this team back into the playoffs, as he did last year in Cleveland?

This was the biggest concern about LeBron’s injury. It’s possible to play through a groin injury, but there’s a strong possibility of aggravating it. If LeBron didn’t fully recover, he faces that risk – likely heightened by his need to play his way back into shape.

The Lakers (28-29) are three games and two teams out of playoff position. They have little margin for error. They need LeBron healthy and playing at least near his usual elite level.

I’m not convinced we can take either for granted the rest of the season.

More evidence suggests disgraced NBA ref Tim Donaghy fixed games

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Disgraced referee Tim Donaghy and the NBA have always been aligned on one narrative: Donaghy didn’t fix games.

Provide inside information to gamblers? Yes. Bet on his own games? Yes.

But fix games? No.

That’s the story Donaghy had to tell to avoid more jail time and the story the NBA had to sell to preserve its integrity.

It just never held up to scrutiny. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop led the charge of publicly investigating Donaghy’s claims, and professional gambler (later Mavericks employee) Haralabos Voulgaris reviewed the calls. They concluded the system Donaghy admitted to – leveraging his knowledge of other referees’ biases toward against certain players and coaches – would have lost money. The money was made on his own games.

It just fits common sense. Donaghy was unethical enough to gamble on his own games but drew the line at altering calls to win his bets? C’mon.

Now comes perhaps the most definitive account of Donaghy’s misdeeds yet, including details on the gambling operation and statistical analysis of its outcomes.

Scott Eden of ESPN:

Donaghy favored the side that attracted more betting dollars in 23 of those 30 competitive games, or 77 percent of the time. In four games, he called the game neutrally, 50-50. The number of games in which Tim Donaghy favored the team that attracted fewer betting dollars? Three.

In other words, Donaghy’s track record of making calls that favored his bet was 23-3-4.

If one assumes there should be no correlation between wagers and the calls made by a referee, the odds of that disparity* might seem unlikely. And they are. When presented with that data, ESPN statisticians crunched the numbers and revealed: The odds that Tim Donaghy would have randomly made calls that produced that imbalance are 6,155-to-1.

“He can influence a game six points either way — that’s what he told me,” Tommy Martino said as we sat in the break room of his family’s hair salon, where he’s worked since he got out of prison in August 2009 after serving 10 months.

I highly recommend reading Eden’s piece in full. It is excellent.

I’m intrigued by the idea the NBA leaked the FBI’s investigation into Donaghy to undermine a search into whether more referees were corrupt. Donaghy claimed some were.

Donaghy lacks credibility. I don’t trust him on anything, including that.

But I could also see David Stern’s NBA wanting to stifle a deeper dive into the league’s officials before it got off the ground. That’d prevent wider problems just in case this was a rare time Donaghy was being truthful.

Again, Eden’s full article is worth reading.