Fame monster: The LeBron Show befits the King of all media

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A while back, I tossed around the idea of suggesting here that LeBron James hold a live pay-per-view special at midnight on July 1 to announce his intentions. I didn’t write it since it was obviously flawed thinking – after all, he clearly had to sit through a half-dozen bluster-filled presentations before he could come to a decision he probably knew to begin with.

But it turns out I wasn’t so far off. I was just a week early.

I’ve studied LeBron for a long time – reading, watching, researching. This Thursday night ESPN special makes total sense to me. And considering the backlash I’m seeing about this whole thing, I can’t believe people don’t get that this is the way it simply has to be.

I mean, honestly now, get over yourselves. And get your popcorn ready for Thursday night.

LeBron James is the most significant athlete in the United States. Not only is he wonderfully talented, he has a carefully cultivated corporate image that essentially makes him Jay-Z in basketball shorts. He’s been bred for stardom since he was a teenager. He’s the coolest, the glossiest, the most marketable.

What do you want him to do, send out a press release?

And of course LeBron’s something of a narcissist. How is that an amazing insight? He almost has to be: LeBron attracts gawkers like moths to a flame.

Someone signed LeBron up for Twitter yesterday, and his account promptly gained about 60 followers a second. SportsAngle executive editor Frank Pepe texted me, “I went out to get a sandwich, and by the time I got back, LeBron had gained 15,000 followers.” After one day, he had over 206,000 followers and the account had sent one missive.

LeBron is everything that sports celebrity in this day and age has become. He’s the Drake of this thing. His game has incredible substance, and yet his persona is flimsy as a house of cards, fabricated by a host of companies he endorses and a ragtag marketing team. He takes himself way too seriously. He’s not fully formed, having never been to college, and yet he grew up way too fast, moving frequently during a poverty-filled childhood in Ohio.

Despite the book and the movie, we don’t really know who he is, particularly since LeBron doesn’t truly know who he’s supposed to be. We just all know we’re supposed to watch his every move.

He’s on the Twitter now, he’s got his new website, he’s got his prime-time decision special – which, I might add, will probably be the most watched show in the history of ESPN. LeBron wants to be a global icon, and he’s parlaying the added attention from his free agency into enhancing his image.

This ESPN special? Just one more brick in the wall. You might think LeBron isn’t big enough to do this, but the ability to orchestrate the special gives his star power even more credibility.

Wade and Bosh couldn’t do this. They simply gave Michael Wilbon an interview this morning on SportsCenter. No buildup, no hype, no nothing. Wade isn’t a sports celebrity on the level of James – but nobody is, in any sport. They can’t blend his mainstream Q-rating with his street credibility.

Lots of people today have been comparing LeBron unfavorably to Kevin Durant, who quietly re-upped with the Thunder. They’re both very talented, but far different types of people and at a different level of celebrity. Remember, I spent some time with Durant back in February. He’s a soft-spoken 21-year-old kid who likes his video games and clowning with his friends.

That’s how LeBron might have turned out if he hadn’t been steered toward the spotlight from the outset. But since he was, this is the way tomorrow has to go. And I can’t wait to watch it.

Listen, I know how this ESPN special looks. I’m just saying that if you expected this to be any different, you’re not living in reality. This is how LeBron lives his life. To those completely put off by this: I’d say take solace in the fact that ad revenue benefits charity, or some such.

LeBron James’ life has truly become a reality show. And everyone should take the opportunity to enjoy a groundbreaking moment in American sports history and popular culture. I plan to enjoy every minute of it.

Unless he signs with the Heat or something, and not the Knicks.

In that case, I totally agree with all of you.


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