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February 7, 2003

by Bill Hogan


High school basketball demigod LeBron James has been getting a lot of bad press lately. Ironically, from the very same sports media that made him famous in the first place.

You don't have to be a high school basketball fan – or any kind of basketball fan – to recognize the name LeBron James. The sports media has made the Akron prep star as identifiable as Michael Jordan and Shaq.


He's on the cover of national magazines; he's a staple in the sports page headlines and he's every sportscaster's lead story. The media can't say enough about LeBron James and lately it's been all too critical.

LeBron was seen driving around Akron in a brand new $50,000 Hummer- and the sports media wants answers. Where'd he get the money? Where did his unemployed mother get the money? Who really gave him the Hummer? Adidas? Nike? (Perhaps Gloria James used the December 23rd issue of ESPN the Magazine as collateral – LeBron was on the cover.)

Then LeBron did the unthinkable. He accepted two vintage basketball jerseys from a local sporting goods store free of charge. The Ohio High School Athletic Association declared him ineligible to compete for the rest of the season.

The sports media has had a field day with the downfall of LeBron James. They've collectively pointed the finger of blame at everybody associated with LeBron and St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School.

It's his mom's fault. It's his coaches' fault. It's the school's fault. It's the athletic shoe companies' fault. It's the fault of the sporting goods store owner. One prominent sportswriter covered just about everybody when he said that "adults [in LeBron's life] failed him".

Other sports 'experts' were quick to point out that LeBron is eighteen years old and he should know better. The only group the media did not accuse of being a part of the exploitation of LeBron James is the media itself.

It's probable that all or most of the adults in LeBron's life are culpable, but none more so than the sports media. One guy went so far as to lament that, with all the "hype" surrounding LeBron, he better turn out to be the second coming of Kobe Bryant; without ever even hinting at the fact that he and his peers are responsible for the hype in the first place.

They unsympathetically caution that fame and notoriety comes with a price and bears a certain amount of personal responsibility; But LeBron James didn't ask for all the fame and notoriety. It was the year-long media circus that created the national attention and elevated LeBron to the level of superstar.

ESPN even televised two of St. Vincent-St. Mary's game this season. After the first game, the all sports network boasted that 'King James' helped boost ESPN2's ratings to a two year high.

The high school's athletic department receives fifty calls a day from the media requesting to speak to LeBron. I bet even Tiger isn't as highly sought after on a daily basis – and he has an entire public relations firm to handle the media.

What's next? The Enquirer superimposing LeBron's picture next to Brittany Spears at the Grammy Awards? LeBron as the newest member of the household on Big Brother 4? Rumors that LeBron will be escorting J-Lo to his senior prom?

Here's a newsflash: if you stick a camera in an eighteen-year-old's face 24/7, there's a chance you're going to discover an occasional indiscretion. And when you're the one that "breaks the story" about receiving a free jersey from a local store, don't sit by the phone waiting for the Pulitzer Prize committee to call. It's not Watergate, no matter how hard you try to make it seem that way.

Jersey-gate only came to light because Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen were lurking in this kid's backyard night and day looking for the next big scoop. He's a kid – at least for the next four months – get off his back.

A court issued restraining order against the OHSAA ban will allow LeBron to compete with his teammates after serving a two game suspension. When he's back on the court, leave him alone; at least until David Stern announces his name at the NBA Draft.

If the sports media is looking for a scapegoat to take the fall for the shortcomings of an eighteen-year-old high school student, they should look squarely into the Mirror, or the Tribune, or the Gazette, or the Post.


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