Heat Wave Washes Away American Ideals: LeBron James, the Media, and the American Soul

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            Millions of Americans had pleaded with basketball superstar LeBron James to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and come to their city when he became a free agent. Bloggers, media pundits, and reporters of every kind seemed to devote much of their lives to figuring out what team James would be a part of for the 2011 season. 

            The speculation ended, Thursday, July 8, when ESPN opened a full hour of prime time for some pretend-journalism and an interview with James, who 28 minutes into the infomercial announced he was leaving Cleveland and going to the Miami Heat.  Floridians were ecstatic. With multimillionaire James joining multimillionaires Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, they were sure the Heat would once again win an NBA championship, something that had eluded James in Cleveland. The day after the ESPN show, the man known in Cleveland as "King James" held court with Wade and Bosh in Miami's American Airlines arena, surrounded by 13,000 screaming fans, all of whom watched South Beach and Miami city officials give the three superstars keys to their cities. Two days after the announcement, Miami Heat fans began buying replicas of James jerseys, with his new number, 6, stitched across the back. Most NBA jerseys sell for about $50; these were priced up to $150.

            In other basketball franchise cities, millions of fans who thought their team would have a chance to sign the man who wears a tattoo, "Chosen 1" across his back, wailed incessantly, as if their high school's Prom Queen had just rejected their mournful bid to go steady. On the day of the "decision," ABC-TV, a sister company to ESPN, devoted two segments on its nightly news to the forthcoming spectacular. The other networks settled for one segment. Following the "decision," the TV networks and local stations ran "breaking news" crawls beneath scheduled shows. The next morning, newspapers gave the announcement front page coverage, with extensive commentary inside. The New York Daily News devoted almost its entire front page to a picture of a scowling James, and the whining headline, "Hey, New York, we're the greatest city in the world, so . .  .WHO CARES!" The New York Post front page headline was a bold "LeBum."

            But, it was Cleveland where hatred unified a city of about 450,000, part of a metropolitan area of about 2.2 million. Within minutes after James announced his decision, the Cleveland fans threw his cardboard images into trash cans and burned jersey replicas, the same ones they had proudly worn for seven years. Within two days, they began tearing down a Nike-sponsored 10-story mural that featured LeBron James, his head thrown back, his oversized arms spread out, saviour-like. This city would not have any graven image of the traitor they once worshipped as a "hometown hero." Thousands even proclaimed they would boycott all companies—including Allstate, Nike, and McDonald's—that have endorsement contracts with James. Between tears and rage, Cleveland fans, aided by numerous sports commentators, claimed that the James defection would cause the city to lose at least $20 million in revenue and, for all we know, doom it to be a third world country. A bitter Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who had not received the courtesy of even a pre-announcement phone call from James, lashed out in a letter to his fans, calling the decision, a "shameful display of selfishness and betrayal," and that the hometown Cavaliers, unlike James, "have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you." But, Gilbert's most important statement might have been his observation of the entire process. Although Gilbert would have praised James and the TV coverage had he remained in Cleveland, the Cavaliers' owner pointed to an underlying truth. The decision, said Gilbert, "was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his 'decision' unlike anything ever 'witnessed' in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment."

            Even when the hyperbole is stripped away, a truth remains. For at least a week, it didn't seem there was any other news. But there was.

            On the day that LeBron James announced he was going to Miami, and the media and a couple of hundred million Americans sat in anticipation of the "Decision," another heat wave washed over America. In this one, three people died from the heat wave that gripped the northeast; hundreds more, mostly senior citizens and the homeless, had to be treated for heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

            On the day that LeBron James announced he was going to Miami, and the media and a couple of hundred million Americans sat in anticipation of the "Decision," about 15 million Americans were unemployed, and 46 million Americans had no health insurance.

            On the day that LeBron James announced he was going to Miami, and the media and a couple of hundred million Americans sat in anticipation of the "Decision," the BP oil spill in the Gulf was in its 79th day. On that day, 2.5 million gallons of oil polluted the Gulf. As much as 160 million gallons have now leaked into the Gulf, destroying wildlife, plants, and the livelihoods of several hundred thousands residents.

            On the day that LeBron James announced he was going to Miami, and the media and a couple of hundred million Americans sat in anticipation of the "Decision," three British and two American soldiers and two UN workers were killed. American deaths in Afghanistan since the war began now total 1,171; about 6,700 have been wounded.

            On the day that LeBron James announced he was going to Miami, and the media and a couple of hundred million Americans sat in anticipation of the "Decision," at least 60 civilians died from bombs in Iraq; about 360 were wounded. Since the beginning of the American-led invasion of Iraq, 4,412 American soldiers have died; almost 32,000 have been wounded, according to Defense Department records. Civilian casualties are estimated at 110,000, according to the Associated Press. Other reliable sources place the totals well over a half-million civilian deaths from hostile action.

            On the day of the "Decision," if you added up the yearly salaries of only the American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the wars began, they would not equal the money that LeBron James makes in just one year. And, that, more than anything else, says a lot about America.

 

[Walter Brasch's latest books are the witty and probing Sex and the Single Beer Can, a look at American culture and the mass media; and Sinking the Ship of State, an overview of the Bush–Cheney presidency. Both are available at amazon.com, and other stores. You may contact Brasch at Brasch@bloomu.edu]

 

 

 

The NBA gets political as lawsuits against Arizona pile up

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Remember how Arizona’s Gov. Brewer signed off on a bill that allows police to stop someone based on “reasonable suspicion” of them being undocumented and when asked about the obvious racial profiling implications of the law, said that she “didn’t know” what an undocumented person looked like? Following the trend that Jon Stewart perfected, basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant made a bold statement against the law by wearing a “Do I look illegal?” T-shirt at the NBA’s Western Conference Finals in Los Angeles on Monday.

The buzz on the street is that Vanessa Bryant’s statement was a direct retort to L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s comments in support of Arizona’s new law, SB1070. Phil Jackson surprised a number of people when, during an interview with ESPN columnist J.A. Adande, he expressed support for the anti-immigrant law and practically chastised the management and players of the Phoenix Sons basketball team for taking an active stance against the law. In Jackson’s opinion, the law is doing nothing but “adapting” Federal immigration law to the state, by “giving it some teeth to be able to enforce it.” Given the coach’s strong Democrat leanings in the past, Adande was surprised at his take on the matter. In response to the way that the Phoenix Sons’ owner, general manager and key players like Steve Nash have spoken out against the measure, Coach Jackson said-

I don’t think teams should get involved in the political stuff. And I think this one’s still kind of coming out to balance as to how it’s going to be favorably looked upon by our public. If I heard it right the American people are really for stronger immigration laws, if I’m not mistaken. Where we stand as basketball teams, we should let that kind of play out and let the political end of that go where it’s going to go.

Given that the National Basketball Association has come out and called the law “disturbing,” it is no surprise that a lot of people were counting on the L.A. Lakers to take a stand against it. Considering the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution to boycott business with Arizona, there were high expectations that as representatives of an area with the largest Hispanic population in the country, the Lakers would make a symbolic gesture in opposition to the law. However, apart from Vanessa Bryant’s fashion statement and a small protest staged outside the Staples center on the eve of the game, there was very little politics involved in the game on Monday. Timothy Rutten, in an impassioned op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, expressed his deep disappointment at Jackson’s position, and urged the players of the Lakers team to take a stand. Speaking about the “clarification” that coach Jackson later offered to the press, Rutten writes-

It won’t do. Jackson’s original statement was not a declaration of neutrality, nor was it an argument for holding sport above politics. It was an endorsement of the Arizona law and a criticism of another NBA team that opposes it…If the Lakers, who have given this community so much joy and excellence, close their eyes to Arizona’s affront to so many of its members, then at least one disappointed fan will be withholding his support, and inviting as many others as will listen to do the same.

But while coach Phil Jackson and his team steered clear of mixing politics with sports, the mayors of the two cities (Los Angeles and Phoenix) used the opportunity to expose the absurdity of Arizona’s law. Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, both of whom have taken a strong stance against the law, turned the tradition of a friendly wager between sporting cities into a political statement about the harsh enforcement law. In a conscious move to use humor to draw attention to the law, Mayor Villaraigosa sent a letter to Mayor Gordon proposing that if the Lakers lost, Los Angeles would pay by accepting Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. Taking a stab at the many allegations of racial profiling against Sheriff Arpaio, Mayor Villaraigosa suggested that “Perhaps a stint in Los Angeles would teach him that you cannot deduce immigration status simply by looking at a person.” He joked about the implications of the law saying that if the Phoenix Sons star player, Canadian Steve Nash, was stopped as per the law, they would happily welcome him in L.A. Conversely, if the Sons lost, the Mayor joked that L.A. would sent across the Republican candidates for California governor Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman, since they are “currently battling for supremacy on the issue of illegal immigration. Perhaps some time in Arizona would show them both that being governor isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.” Mayor Gordon accepted the wager.

The Lakers beat the Sons hollow on Monday, and while the wager remains in jest, a number of civil rights group went ahead and filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Arizona and SB1070 this week. As planned, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) challenged the new law on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, violating the 1st and 4th amendments; that it encroached on the Federal government’s jurisdiction over immigration policy; and that it would lead to racial profiling. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of labor groups, a Tucson church, social service organizations and individuals, seeks to halt the controversial law from going into effect, something that is slated to happen on July 29th.

By this point, opposition to SB1070 has come from diverse quarters, and taken the form of television spoofs, protests, fashion statements, wagers, and lawsuits, to name a few. We only hope that this is not in vain and this extreme measure is halted before it is too late.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

Boycott Monday Night Football

I'm asking outraged sports fans to let ESPN/Disney hear it! Below is my letter to ESPN, complaining about the Path to 9/11. As you may know, they are HQ'd in New York.

This year, ESPN will host Monday Night Football. We should boycott this program and let them know why. Politely.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/stor y?page=contact/index

A boycott of football will shake them. They think football fans are all conservative or "bubbas" or both. MNF announcers have a conservative bias that has long been a problem. I am a New England patriot fan, they will show the Pats on MNF and I'll be listening to that game on the radio.

Please join this boycott if you can. Give up one game a week for the good of our country.

My letter:

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