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LeBron could have made worse 'Decision'
LeBron James' decision to turn NBA free agency into a reality TV show was an unprecedented and much-appreciated gift to the sports-writing industry.
LeBron and D-Wade on the same team? With Bosh? Very interesting.
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My peers and colleagues stepped up across the country. You can focus on the shoddy rumor-mongering that had Dwyane Wade leaning toward Chicago and Chris Bosh off to Houston and James lusting to team with Jay Z, but I prefer to focus on the positives.
The best work may have been done by the Cleveland Plain Dealer's intrepid Cavaliers reporter Brian Windhorst, who filed this fascinating story getting to the bottom of how the Wade-Bosh-LeBron-Heat deal came together over four years.
Despite all of the great reporting by NBA veterans, one story was completely overlooked: How Jim Gray bamboozled Team LeBron into enthusiastically participating in the worst, televised public-relations disaster since David Frost snookered Richard Nixon for $600,000.
"The Decision," aired on ESPN, sponsored by the University of Phoenix "online" University and filmed at a swank, filthy-rich Boys and Girls Club in virtually all-white Greenwich, Conn., turned James into a global laughingstock. He was booed at Wednesday night's ESPY Awards.
At some point, I fully expect to see James on TV protesting "I am not a crook!"
How did this happen?
LeBron James is arguably the highest-profile athlete in the world. He could've summoned Oprah Winfrey, Bob Costas, Bryant Gumbel, Barbara Walters or anyone at the top of the broadcasting profession to deliver the news he was taking his talent to South Beach.
King James, in a move that will be studied for decades on college campuses, chose Jim Gray, a sideline reporter whose relevancy has been in decline since a confrontational interview with Pete Rose in 1999.
With the support of my bosses here at FOX Sports, I spent the past week investigating the curious case of the Gray/James Interview. Talking with numerous sources throughout the sports and entertainment industry, I was able to piece together a portrait of how Gray seduced James and Maverick Carter into "The Decision."
My sources spoke on condition of anonymity. Like Jesse Jackson, most of my sources hope to one day milk Team LeBron for a sizable "charitable" donation or, like ESPN, convince LeBron to partner on another foolish endeavor and then base an awards show on making fun of Team LeBron's stupidity.
"LeBron, Maverick and the rest of the King's entourage are gifts that keep on giving," one veteran sports agent told me. "We haven't seen an athlete this ripe for picking since Don King got a hold of Mike Tyson."
Jim Gray was not the only person pursuing LeBron for a one-hour TV show about his free-agent decision, multiple sources told FOX Sports. TNT's Craig Sager also tried to cut a deal with Team LeBron. Sager wanted to interview LeBron in the middle of a Law & Order rerun on TNT. The deal fell apart during a face-to-face meeting with Maverick Carter, the 29-year-old head of LeBron's high-school-friends marketing team.
"Maverick was very uncomfortable with interrupting L&O," said a TV executive with intimate knowledge of the negotiations. "Maverick is a big fan of the show and it's how he decompresses after a rough day of work playing Xbox and PlayStation. Maverick expressed that he would be particularly uncomfortable if it was an episode featuring Angie Harmon."
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The TNT-Sager deal quickly fell apart. But, according to my sources, Team LeBron reached a handshake agreement with Flavor Flav and BET.
"That's the deal Maverick and LeBron's handlers wanted to do," a source confided. "Flavor Flav put together the strongest proposal."
FOX Sports learned that the former rapper-turned-reality TV star lined up Olde English 800 as the title sponsor and planned to shoot "The Decision" at the Spearmint Rhino in Las Vegas. Kanye West was going to host a studio show at Big Mama's House of Soul Food and Tattoos with rapper Lil Kim, celebrity Kim Kardashian and former NBA star John Salley serving as analysts.
"It was gonna be a show. Yeeeaaah booooyyyyyeee!" said a source close to Flavor Flav. "Don't believe the hype, Maverick was ready to sign the dealee, yo. Elvis was a hero to most, but Flav had Chris Brown to sing the national anthem. Diddy was gonna host a post show. Yeeeahhhh boooyyeee!"
Multiple sources confirmed the Flavor Flav-BET deal collapsed when Lil Kim, Salley and Kardashian balked at agreeing to ask James only "softball" questions.
"Lil Kim was adamant about not sacrificing her street cred," a source said. "She said, ‘I ain't gonna sit on TV and look like LeBron's b***h.' "
Gray and ESPN did not have similar concerns.
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