LeBron James, The NBA Finals, And The 24 Hour News Cycle: A Love Story
When things go wrong in the media world, the 24-hour- news cycle is often deemed culpable. Our fast paced society craves new facts concerning new events to digest on a new tablet with the new news app from a new blog from a new media company. Not coincidentally, a lot of nonsense gets flagged as worthwhile news to satiate hungry media consumers.
In sports journalism, I’m mostly fine with the rigors of the 24-hour news cycle because we are all operating with the collective understanding that none of this is all that important. It incenses me when Fox News hammers us over the head with a video of Barack Obama innocently forgetting to salute a marine while boarding a helicopter to convince us that he is an unpatriotic socialist rather than a profoundly overworked man with some heavy stuff on his mind. It is deceitful. It is not a news story.
However, I am delighted to know that David Grutman, owner of Story Nightclub, comped the Miami Heat’s celebratory, $100,000 bar tab after they secured the NBA Championship Thursday night. I like useless updates on dead end stories, like the Clippers having a “good meeting” with Byron “not Doc Rivers or Brian Shaw” Scott. I will miss Tim Tebow’s days in the New York Jet’s media maelstrom. These updates have nothing to do with what transpires on the field of play, but they help flesh out the characters on television’s most unpredictable drama: sports. (Sorry Breaking Bad!) I love these strange vignettes because I remember them. I love them because they are the sort of conversation starters the veracity of which Skeptical Bar Dude will confront. “Jason Terry did NOT get the trophy tattooed on his neck before the 2011 season,” he says louder than he thinks he does. The look on his face after he reads the seemingly meaningless news story on his iPhone is pure validation for the sort of sports fan who peruses a talk radio website.
The facts are fun. 24-hour-news cycles in sports should be free to keep spinning. What needs to become more sensible is the 24-hour news cycle’s uneven cousin, the 24-hour commentary cycle. These NBA playoffs, they of the majestic pageantry and explosive drama, were fodder for some extremely silly analysis, especially regarding its protagonist, the recently re-crowned King James.
Few analysts seem to understand what a legacy is. While I was under the impression that legacies take a career to craft and decades to crystallize, almost everything Lebron James did during these playoffs, be it slither through the Spurs defense or lose his headband or brush his teeth, was analyzed exclusively under the lens of how it affected his legacy. Even more egregious were claims that his “legacy was saved” by Ray Allen’s series-swinging three pointer in game six, as though a 28 year old NBA champion, four-time MVP and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist would have been relegated to a historical status of ignominy and dishonor for committing a couple of turnovers. I’m not arguing that Lebron shouldn’t be held accountable for his occasional miscue, but almost every time an analyst said “legacy” they should have said “series” or “season”. The farthest I’ll go is “reputation.” (As it turns out, he delivered a rather reputable performance and was lauded as some combination of Magic Johnson, late 80s Prince, and Jesus.)
There were other examples of wild fluctuations in the prevailing opinions of basketball’s media luminaries during these finals. After game 5, the savvy, cagey Spurs had rattled the Heat’s collective psyche by carrying out the game plan of their resident tactician, the incomparable Gregg Popovich. That was the narrative. But wait! He subbed out Tim Duncan to defend against Miami’s army of three-point marksman at the end of Game 6 with a switch-at-all costs-philosophy. He was skewered by the media for not looking into a crystal ball and foreseeing that his sound defensive stratagem would generate a long rebound that would careen off of the rim into the general vicinity of Miami’s tallest player. He should’ve been more clairvoyant. Popovich was further lambasted for not calling a timeout to insert Tony Parker into the lineup on their final play even though Parker was exhausted and his hamstring was held together by chewing gum and silly putty. Popovich also elected to leverage the advantage of getting out in transition so the Heat’s ballhawking, trapping tornado of a defense didn’t have time to set up, but I’m sure the talking heads considered that because they must have a better command of Xs and Os than a coach they proclaimed worthy of a Nobel Prize one whole news cycle before. I’m sure they did.
The quick-hitting style that works so well for sports news doesn’t seem to always work for sports commentary. Opinion work is thorny. It requires a measured approach. It requires careful consideration. You cannot push your opinion past its reasonable horizon by yelling it. 24 hours is enough time to make the news. A legacy is a different story.