At least with The Dwightmare, we didn’t have Jim Gray stalling for a half hour with questions about biting fingernails.
That was one of several things that made The Decision – LeBron James‘ ill-advised, prime-time, tin-ear, vanity TV production – such a monumental gaffe and something that, two NBA championships and Finals MVP trophies later, the league’s best player still hasn’t completely lived down.
There are those who may never forgive that hour of hubris, punctuated by James’ somewhat clumsy “taking my talents to South Beach” phrasing when he finally announced his free-agent choice back in July 2010. Many still are more rankled by the ESPN-aired reveal than by what the All-Star forward’s departure meant to the Cleveland Cavaliers, how it signaled the AAU-ificiation of NBA roster-building or any of the other nits that get picked over that decision.
On balance, though, Dwight Howard‘s Dwightmare has been plenty bad. Worse, it says here at HTB.
Left up to Howard, any TV show dedicated to his free-agent choice would have ended like “The Sopranos” finale. Before anyone learned anything.
Look, we were in the gym that night in Greenwich, Conn., when James and his advisors used a background of kids at the Boys & Girls Club as background props. That organization benefited greatly – commercial fees from The Decision show generated an estimated $2.5 million that went to the charity – but the whole event was off-key. It landed with a thud.
Frankly, only a heroic return to the Cavs, with the kids rushing to encircle and embrace James, could have salvaged the thing. He was uncharacteristically self-conscious that night, visibly uncomfortable sitting across from Gray on-camera, hyper off it as he dashed quickly to a rest room afterward.
As for the process itself, James went through the whole courting game, with six teams (Heat, Knicks, Nets, Clippers, Bulls and Cavs) pitching him in a downtown Cleveland office building. That took three days. One bogus report said James would make up his mind by July 5 but it wasn’t until July 8 that The Decision actually aired. So five days passed while everyone waited … and twisted in the wind.
Howard? He took just two days to hear out five teams (Rockets, Mavericks, Warriors, Hawks and Lakers). By Wednesday, he was in Aspen, Colo., weighing factors, eliminating suitors. And then it was done, Friday afternoon, no manufactured suspense, no hokey Q&A with a hand-picked interviewer. He fast-tracked James’ timetable by three full days.
Except for … Twitter. Which changed everything.
Three years ago, the social networking behemoth was in its relative infancy, still a toy for the public, a new tool for the media. In June 2010, for instance, Twitter management estimated that it saw about 65 million Tweets per day, up from 2 million just 18 months earlier but a fraction of what it processes now. Are you sitting down? By March 2013, on its seventh “birthday,” Twitter reported an average of 400 million Tweets per day.
Put another way, that’s 1 billion Tweets every 2.5 days.
No more than half of which were dedicated to NBA free agency this week.
Factor in all those Tweets with what seems to be, given the number of Web sites, blogs and old-fashioned print outlets, a sports media “bubble” these days and it’s safe to say that no NBA superstar’s impending free agency ever got the amount of coverage that Howard’s did. That’s especially true since his has gone on for essentially 19 months; from the start of the 2011-12 post-lockout season to this terrain-altering Houston Rockets development, Howard has been way more a free agent-to-be than an All-Star center.
His final season in Orlando was marred by the rumors and speculation of “What will Dwight do?” until he finally waived his opt-out. Last August, the blockbuster trade that convulsed four franchises was followed not by the Lakers’ giddy march to The Finals but by a horrid start, a revolving door of coaches and a scramble just to make the playoffs. And then this, the vigil, chronicled not 24/7 like the old “new” media but 60/60 by the newest, minutes and seconds taking over for hours and days.
But wait, there was more: With James, there was the sense that the payoff, ultimately, would be supreme. He was on his way to greatness, with a championship very likely to follow. At 25, he already was a two-time Most Valuable Player by July 2010 and was hitting his prime, heading into a grand experiment with two other All-Stars and a leader, in Pat Riley, who ranked as one of the most decorated and competitive in league annals.
Howard, at 27, has back surgery on his medical charts and something less than a fire-breathing reputation as a competitor. His game has plateaued and the Rockets’ last NBA championship came when their new centerpiece was in fourth grade. Kevin McHale should be able to give Howard the best big-man mentoring he’s ever had but James Harden has only one year as a No. 1 option behind him and the pecking order in Houston is very much in flux again.
Howard’s selection of the Rockets seems more basketball-driven than if he’d re-upped in Los Angeles for its show-biz proximity, nightlife diversions and endorsements upside. But we won’t know that for a while.
The curious thing is, Howard’s reputation for clowning and indecisiveness might improve by what flows from The Dwightmare, whereas James’ reputation – pretty solid and, if not liked, at least appreciated – went south overnight for so many with The Decision. Still, Howard’s went on too long and, until there’s some hardware in Houston, will not have the gravity that James’ switch of teams produced.
So which was worse for you: The Decision or The Dwightmare?