Pickens' Perspective: 'Decision' kills a big piece of sports
All of this feels wrong.
It sure isn't right.
This isn't why I wanted to get into sports. This isn't how I felt when I first walked into Yankee Stadium on my sixth birthday for my first baseball game. This wasn't why I played little league or rec basketball or Pop Warner football.
I always had dreams of being the first baseman for the New York Yankees. Not because of glitz and glamour, not because they were the greatest team ever or because their "brand" was the best. I wanted to be a Yankee because I grew up a fan of them in Hillsborough, N.J.
I once tried to defend Jose Canseco as a role model to my father when I was four and he told me "he's a liar, cheater and drug user." I was in tears. But it kept me grounded. I chose players to look up to that were real. I strayed from stars because they weren't real.
They still aren't real.
I hope kids of today hear all of this, because there are millions of kids my age that grew up worshipping Michael Jordan. Bandwagon Bulls fans were the worst, and they were everywhere, but at least Jordan had the redeeming quality and appearance of loyalty.
When LeBron James entered the NBA, I was skeptical. I wanted to see how he'd do on the big stage. Then he took the league by storm and I was impressed. Then in 2007 he singlehandedly beat the Pistons and I was a believer.
However, in 2010, I'm over LeBron.
I'm over it because James took his dog and pony show to Greenwich and we all followed like lemmings jumping off of a cliff. I am guilty. Even though I wasn't one of the 10 million people watching "The Decision" on Thursday night, I followed it on Facebook. I tweeted about it. I'm writing a column about it now.
I'm over LeBron because of what this spectacle has done and will do to kids, because it has dragged the profession that I've chosen into a sludge lower than dirt. I want kids to have what I had. I want them to simply have games, not individual brands and licensing agreements and ego and greed.
On some level, sports is still about having a catch with dad, or street hockey or playing a pickup basketball game in the street. It's about football in the yard and playing until dark, and "5 more minutes, mom!" and the joy that comes from simply playing.
I've written before about why being a diehard fan of any single team is a fool's errand. But I still am one. But on July 8, 2010, a big piece of the sports fan in me died.
On July 8, 2010, a big piece of sports died.
They died because a single solitary figure became bigger than a game, a league, and sports itself. There are seminal moments in sports history when things go sour. The 1994 baseball strike was one. The cancellation of the NHL season in 2005 was one. And July 8, 2010 is now one that will be etched in the history of sports as a day when sports took us to hell.
There are numerous culprits that were in the driver seat too. The obvious one is money and another obvious one is ESPN. I've taken veiled slams at ESPN before, but there is a reason why I have chosen to no longer watch their telecasts (other than game coverage). They think they are sports. Their personalities are either ex-athletes or self-proclaimed "celebrities."
But let's be reasonable. If ESPN didn't jump in bed with LeBron, another outlet would have. This is the state of broadcast sports journalism. Celebrity and mayhem reign.
I got into sports journalism because I wanted to get paid to go to games. I'm still all about "games" that's why I do what I do now. But somewhere along the lines, sports stopped being about games, and became about branding and selfishness.
Miami fans rejoiced when LeBron said "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach." Cleveland, fans ached again. But we all died a little when ESPN, LeBron and let the genie out of the bottle forever.
We're all witnesses now.
And it stinks.