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.