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Alexandria Szocs NBA Free Agency: Is “Spectacle” the New Precedence? LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Shaquille O’Neal and Amar’e Stoudemire… What do each of these men have in common? They are (arguably) some of the top talent in the NBA. Each plays for (or has played for) top teams or led lesser teams to greatness. Together, they form one small portion of the NBA 2010 free agency class. As each season passes, free agents come and go, oftentimes causing chaos and scandal along the way. This past summer’s free agents were no strangers to this. A few, more so than others, became the focal point and constant talk of the sports’ world for months. Along with the normal expectations of trade and contract rumors, came an almost overwhelming aftermath and in- your-face deal announcements. Above all of the deals made, LeBron James’s decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat was the most talked about and anticipated decision. During (and before) the free agency period, James was at the height of discussion. Many of the league’s top contenders (Knicks, Nets, Chicago Bulls) were vying for James. He was, indisputably, the top prize in what many feel became a free agency “circus”. Not only were the typical outlets of ESPN and Sports Illustrated buzzing with updates on James’s meetings and potential offers, the entire nation was engrossed in a constant chatter about whether LeBron would seriously consider leaving his hometown team that he’d brought to glory in seven seasons. As the free agency deadline drew near at the beginning of July, ESPN granted James a one- hour prime-time television special to announce where he planned to play next season. It was appropriately labeled “The Decision” and millions of viewers tuned in to watch as LeBron beat around the bush for 30 minutes, avoiding the obvious. Eventually James announced that he would be “taking his talents to South Beach” to join Dwayne Wade and newly acquired Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. James’s announcement created a media frenzy. For days, people invested in the sports world could talk only about “The Decision” and what it meant for the future of the NBA. Fans in Cleveland burned LeBron jerseys and attempted to deface the giant billboard claiming, “We Are All Witnesses” and overlooking the Cavaliers’ home court, the Q. Aside from LeBron announcing his departure for South Beach, Wade’s plans to stay and Bosh joining them (creating a new “Big 3” for NBA) were the only other deals that garnered any major press coverage. Many other players took the quieter, more traditional route in announcing their plans for the upcoming season. For many, press releases, announcements via ESPN and events at home arenas were the preferred method of celebrating the end of free agency. Unfortunately, as in the case of Stoudemire, many players were overshadowed by James’s announcement. When Stoudemire appeared at Madison Square Garden to be presented as the newest star for the New York Knicks (one day after LeBron’s announcement), the air was tainted with a sadness of not obtaining James themselves. This raises important questions for future NBA free agent classes. Should the NBA put restrictions on how players choose to announce deals at the end of the free agency period? Is a prime time television special utterly necessary in announcing a players’ intentions for the upcoming season? In not regulating and allowing things like “The Decision” to take place, the NBA, ESPN and many others are allowing one player special treatment over others. Yes, James was no doubt the “star” (to some) in this past summer’s class, but that should not give him special treatment over other players. Allotting special status only takes away from other players and franchises during a crucial time period that is meant to be exciting for the league as a whole. In all honesty, if you were to ask a person what they thought of this summer’s free agency outcome, there would be an overwhelming response about James, the Heat and the Cavaliers. Yes James’s “dissing” of other teams would be mentioned, but, over all the league would not be the focal point. While free agency is expected to garner stars that eventually become the main topics of interest, the NBA should not allow one player to mask what other players have going on/may offer to the upcoming season. LeBron James was one of a few big stars looking to strike up a new deal this past summer, but, aside from his own teammates (Wade, Bosh), was the focus of the entire process. Therefore, when looking to the future, there’s a strong argument to rally the NBA and get the commissioner and other executives to consider regulating how free agency announcements are handled. If this past summer’s “spectacle” and the current debates of Carmelo Anthony’s future (he finally struck a deal with the Knicks) are any indicator, the league is headed toward a tradition that, for many, will become a media “showboat” instead of a longstanding, well- respected tradition for the NBA (and professional sports in general).
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