LeBron Watch, Day 50: What ESPN Should Have Asked LeBron James

On a night when LeBron James became the most hated man in basketball, only one network had a chance to ask him tough questions about a decision that will shape the future the NBA. And, of course, they didn't do that.

That was rich stuff on ESPN last night, classic sports journalism. Nobody asked LeBron why he quit on the court against the Celtics during the playoffs. Nobody asked about his phantom elbow injury. When he admitted to Michael Wilbon that he never bothered to let Cavs owner Dan Gilbert know that he was leaving, Wilbon let it go without a blink.

When LBJ claimed, "I feel awful that I'm leaving. I feel even worse I wasn't able to bring an NBA championship to that city, because I know they've been wanting it a long time," nobody asked why he felt that a team with more wins than any other the past two years — the team plenty of pundits picked to go all the way when the NBA playoffs began — no longer offered him the chance to win it all.

Above all, though, was the one question no one working for ESPN would even be capable of framing: Why in God's name do you need an hour of prime-time television to make this announcement?

This is what passes now for honor among thieves: One bland and gutless fraud is not going to ask anything that might make another bland and gutless fraud uncomfortable. Boo-ya! Truth is, ESPN and Nike and the major leagues are one seamless corporation, and it's hard to speak truth to power when your bunghole's stuffed with corporate cash.

For me, "The Decision" flew by; I wish LeBron had asked for two hours. I wanted to hear LeBron James refer to himself as Lebron James and a "25-year-old man" a few more times. I wanted more time to savor his bullshit about having a dream and talking to his mama in the morning. I wanted him to go another hour without a single mention of the woman he lives with, the mother of his two sons. In short, I wanted him to make as plain as possible what a grotesque and bloated punk he has become.

I also wanted more coverage of Cleveland, especially of the two squad cars parked by Nike's titanic "We Are All Witnesses" banner downtown, awaiting the pillaging horde. The horde, of course, failed to materialize. In Cleveland, it always does. The horde left Cleveland long ago for the warmer embrace of its suburbs — and along with it took all the jobs, all the good schools, and every vestige of hope.

Sports fans suffer everywhere — that is the essential nature of being a sports fan; even most fucking Yankees fans will insist on how they paid their dues back when the Bombers sucked — but in no place is the pain like Cleveland's: all-encompassing, multi-generational, redundant and unique at once.

LeBron James was the native son who understood that pain and promised to redeem it. That he tried and failed may be sad, but it's no tragedy. And that he left the way he left makes it easier to say it: Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Which brings us to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, whose response to LeDecision — a bellicose "open letter" to Cavs fans, and a bracing set of quotes about how LeBron quit in the playoffs — brought tears of gratitude to my eyes. A bum is a bum is a bum. LeBron's a bum — and Dan Gilbert says so. And promises that the Cavs will win a title before the Heat do.

He'll be subject to derision aplenty for it — and no doubt a talking-to from NBA Commissar David Stern — but Gilbert's yowl is exactly what Cleveland fans want and need to hear today. A calling-out. A yowl of rage. A blood oath. It's great stuff, and I'm grateful to him for it.

* * *

Before I forget, I promised my cousin Jeff that I'd mention that he's got two Cavs season tickets for next year he'd like to sell. The team required all its season-ticket holders to renew — and pay for — next year before anyone knew if LeBron would be back, and now he's out eight grand or so. I bid $79 for both last night; if you're able to top that offer, drop me a line at sraab@hearst.com and I'll pass it along to Jeff.

Scott Raab, author of Real Hollywood Stories, is a Cleveland State University graduate and has been an Esquire Writer at Large since 1997

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