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Justice Is Served


July 11, 2010 11:48 PM

Local media let 'King James' play them for fools

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You probably missed this headline Sunday if you didn't live in Cleveland and subscribe to the city's major daily. The headline read: "We're fooled by a different James."

The words didn't get it straight. What the headline should have said was that the fawning over a star athlete let the city dream dreams it wasn't entitled to dream. It sat back and allowed media to play cozy with LeBron James, and they focused too much time on trying to get James to like them but never did get to know him.

Yet he was right there in front of them all -- the real LeBron James, the petty and self-possessed and pathetic character they now know: the crass and shallow kid who rooted for the Yankees and the Cowboys and whose smile disarmed the media without letting any of them get close to him. Oh, they all thought they knew James. Some of them had covered him since high school, back at those AAU and Nike summer camps; they had hounded James' friends, trying to get inside his cloistered circle, wanting a glimpse that he was unwilling to give them.

So, as journalists and as men and women hired to chronicle the life of a famous athlete, they settled for less. They hero-worshiped; they forgot to do their jobs; they held LeBron James and his entourage accountable for nothing, acquiescing to their whims. For five minutes of James' time, the media would have traded their homes, their cars, their spouses for a story nobody else could get.  

Others enabled all of this, too.


Start with the Cavaliers themselves. Owner Dan Gilbert, the front office and coaches seemed as fearful of upsetting James as the local media were of offending his sensibilities. The PR staff, former general manager Danny Ferry and fired coach Mike Brown shielded James from anything he didn't want to be bothered with; they demanded nothing he wasn't willing to give, including his best effort.

They had seven years to get to know James, the team did. The local media had more than a decade. He left for Miami last week with the media here knowing as much about him after 10 years as they did when his name first made headlines in the 1990s.

All the signs of who he was were there -- all of them, if the media had bothered to dig right down into it. They didn't, not the people who covered him season after season in Cleveland. They played court jesters to King James. What they saw wasn't what they got.

And what did they miss? The most telling sin of all: his greed.

A man doesn't have much ambition if he makes being a billionaire his target. If a man covets money, he'll never have enough of it, because $1 billion isn't enough when somebody else has $20 billion or $30 billion. What can all these billions buy a man if his needs are as pedestrian as a James' are? How many Bentleys and million-dollar mansions and bottles of Dom Pérignon Rosé does he need to live a king's life?

The media here never figured that out. They never wondered aloud what his game plan was, never looked into what was the reason behind his quest for enormous wealth and never questioned his reluctance to open his world a bit for people to peek inside.

His is a public life, as any star's life is. Few stars as bright as James have kept the paparazzi and the adulators and the hangers-on and the public at such a marathon's distance. It was only his close-knit band of brothers from Akron, Ohio, that knew him well and stayed tied to his success, to his wealth and to his obsessions.

It would be pointless and wrong to criticism James for being loyal to his boyhood friends, because a man should keep his friendships in good repair. Those friends are his safety net, his lifeline that protects him from those spying eyes of outsiders, especially when those spying eyes are those of journalists.

Those eyes never spied. They believed what they saw in James, but they didn't seem interested in seeing much beyond the superficial. They knew they had a star in front of them -- a once-in-a-generation star. So they kowtowed to his wishes; they accepted less from him because they wanted to win his favor.

In the end, his favor wasn't worth winning, which is why the soul-searching goes on now in Cleveland. The media should never have stopped doing what journalists do. They should have been covering the self-styled King - the man Sports Illustrated anointed the "Chosen One" -- as they would have covered any celebrity or any public official.

Had the media done so, they would have found out earlier who LeBron James was before his Royal Highness broke the city's heart and then spawned all this introspection that comes too late to serve a meaningful purpose. 

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