Last Night's Winner: ESPN, According To ESPNS

In sports, everyone is a winner—some people just win better than others. Like ESPN, which is reporting that LeBron James will declare his intentions Thursday during a one-hour special televised by ESPN, according to ESPN's sources.

Chad Ford still has a day or so, but I have a feeling the following will go down as the single most preposterous sentence written or uttered during all of LeBronukkah:

LeBron James is planning to announce the team with which he will sign during a one-hour special on ESPN Thursday night, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard has learned through independent sources.

This month has been so full of so many cartwheeling absurdities — a favorite: The New York Times's "done deal" reporter (a very good one, at that) writing three days later that "speculation mounts, along with the rumors" — but this one wins out over all. First off, an hour? How long does it take to say, "I'm all yours, Cleveland"? A whole hour? Is the news conference being held on the S.S. Minnow? And consider further: ESPN is televising a by now galactically newsworthy event, one made galactically newsworthy in no small part due to ESPN's own coverage, and one that will be reported on breathlessly by ESPN itself and whose outcome will have an enormous impact on the value of ESPN's television contract with the NBA. Word of this show was broken by an ESPN reporter, and ESPN.com felt obliged to note that it came from "independent sources," lest it appear that ESPN The News Division was unduly hyping ESPN The Network's programming, even though that's precisely what it does all the time. (Off the top of my head: ESPN The Magazine's tortured efforts to pretend it was covering the Arena Football League for reasons other than that it was televised by ESPN.) Whatever firewall might've once stood between ESPN's news and entertainment divisions fell long ago, and it's always comical to watch the company go through the elaborate charade of pretending it still exists. (We asked ESPN for comment and were told it would have none at this time. We'll just wait for further coverage of ESPN by ESPN's reporters.)

I don't begrudge ESPN the scoop or even the show itself, and I think we all long ago accepted that watching ESPN is not unlike watching a dog lick itself all day. Hell, in a lot of ways, this is the perfect way for the LeBron sweepstakes to end — with a news event staged by the very people reporting the story. For the past month, we've been buffeted along on wave after fat wave of manufactured news, trial balloons, "done deals" that everyone involved knew weren't actually "done" — all of it reported straightfacedly and with a sort of faux innocence by people who were and are as much a part of the wheeling-and-dealing as the folks in their Rolodexes. Unseemly as it is, the LeBron James Variety Hour will at least drop the facade and make plain the central fact of the LeBronathon: that all along, wittingly or unwittingly, the people covering it have merely been playing tinkly pianos in a very big whorehouse.

Sources: LeBron decision Thursday [ESPN]