LeBron James to Finally Unveil His NBA Team 'Decision'

The mania surrounding James' decision recalls the 2008 'Veepstakes.'

July 7, 2010, 4:06 PM

July 8, 2010 -- The suspense has been building for weeks but tonight the world will finally know where Cleveland Cavaliers forward and now free agent LeBron James will play basketball this season.

James will announce his team selection in a live special on ESPN tonight at 9 p.m. ET.

ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported that James' representatives contacted the sports network with the idea of a special for the free agent's announcement with the plan that the network and James' associates would sell sponsorship for the broadcast.

James' business manager, Maverick Carter, said in a statement on www.lebronjames.com that they went this route "due to the unprecedented attention and interest surrounding LeBron's decision."

All of the proceeds from the hour special will go to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and James is expected to make his announcement within the first 10 minutes of the special, ESPN said on Wednesday.

With all the speculation, analysis, reading of tea leaves and countless claims of "insider" information, so far everyone is in the same boat -- out of the loop and not yet knowing what James' final decision will be.

Early Thursday morning, ESPN's Broussard reported that James was "leaning" toward signing a contract with the Miami Heat but there was a caveat that that was "barring a late change of heart" and "it's possible James could alter his decision."

Sports writers said if the goal was to make all of America pay attention to the decision of one free agent, it is working.

"This is more than people have talked about LeBron James ever," said Will Leitch, founder of the sports web site Deadspin.com and a contributing editor for New York Magazine. "There is no other athlete frankly in any sport that could conceivably have an hour show deciding where he was going to go on ESPN."

Leitch said Team LeBron has been "masterful" in figuring out how to "harness the hype" and maximize the publicity and attention in every possible way.

"One of the great things about hype is that it feeds on itself. Complaining about the hype just feeds into it and makes it that much more," Leitch said. "There's a lot for a guy who's just going to say, 'I'm going here."

Robert Thompson, professor and the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, said the closest thing he can compare it to is an infomercial.

"For all I know there is going to be dancing girls and Billy Crystal will open with a Hollywood-themed song montage," he said.

In addition to the announcement on ESPN tonight, Team LeBron has started to dabble in social media. This week James joined Twitter for the first time and within hours had a quarter of a million followers -- without sending a single message. He finally weighed in on the social networking tool by simply directing his fans to his website.

"I think the LeBron James situation has certainly played out the way it's played out thanks to all these different dimensions of media that include the internet, Twitter, social networks," Thompson said. "It's a very different story than it would have been prior to those things."

The hype and speculation over this elaborately orchestrated roll out is unique to sports and seems to have few parallels in the world of entertainment or politics, save for a darkhorse Supreme Court nominee or upset Oscar winner.

Political junkies, though, may be having some flashbacks to the weeks leading up to the announcements of vice presidential candidates.

Political analysts, casual observers and party strategists all seem to have an opinion, and can maybe even claim some insider knowledge, when the silly season known as "Veepstakes" comes around every four years.

The mania surrounding James' decision on where to play basketball recalls the 2008 veepstakes process not just for the punditry and chattering but also for the use of technology and new media.

In 2008, the Obama campaign directed its supporters to sign up for a text message alert to be the first one (more precisely one of millions) to know who Obama selected to be his running mate.

By dangling the Veepstakes scoop as a carrot, the Obama campaign was able to lure in millions of text message subscribers. The campaign utilized that list to rally supporters, urge them to get to the polls and convey polling information on Election Day and solicit fundraising donations.

On James' web site, visitors are asked to provide their name, cell phone number and email address to "Get your information straight from the source, right when it happens," according to a message on the page.

There is no indication that James will pre-empt his ESPN special with a text message update or announcement on his web site nor is there any sign that the list will be used for marketing or promotional purposes.

A political candidate would consider such a list a golden goose for fundraising and mobilizing supporters. What can an athlete do with it besides talk about themselves? That is unclear.

"Buy another LeBron '23' Cleveland jersey?" said Leitch about the list James' team will compile on its web site. "He's not going to ask for money, so are we all signing up for his web site just to get a weekly link saying 'Buy my jersey'?"

Thompson concurred that there are only a few people who have the "juice" to pull off such a hyped announcement and he said that perhaps the whole effort to collect fan data and compile a media database could be Team LeBron's effort to make sure he's still one of the only guys with that juice.

"A lot of guys if they called up ESPN and said they wanted to get an hour, they would get laughed at," Thompson said.

With announcement day finally here, and still no official word from his camp, there are a few clues that fans and journalists are poring over in an effort to determine where James is leaning.

James' inner circle is notoriously tight-lipped and tightly-knit, but credit Team LeBron for being able to keep the decision under wraps.

"There've been no leaks," Leitch said. "Every quote unquote leak has been contradicted by another leak moments later."

That certainly has not stopped the guessing game.

The fact that he's making his announcement outside Ohio is a clear sign that he is not staying, LeBron watchers said on Wednesday, because if he was staying in Cleveland he would break the news there and revel in the hometown love and adoration.

Greenwich is close to New York City -- and both the Knicks and the New Jersey Nets are on the final list of James' suitors. Rapper Jay-Z is a part owner of the Nets and has a house in Greenwich. Does that mean anything?

Others say the entire event -- live on television, designed for maximum dramatic effect -- signals that he is staying put in Cleveland, because James would not go to such great lengths to publicly humiliate his home state and break its collective heart.

But on the other hand, if he's simply staying in Cleveland, why hype up the announcement so big?

And on and on and on it goes and it certainly will not stop until the words come out of James' mouth or he puts a team hat on his head.

"The bad part is this does have a definitive end," Leitch said. "He is going to make a decision tomorrow and it's going to make some people mad."

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