Desperation is the only emotion I sense when I read about what the New York Jets did for free-agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower during his visit. From Adam Schefter, via ESPN:
“They sent his mother Jets merchandise, the brought him out to dinner last night and had cupcakes given to him on his birthday. They had ‘Happy Birthday Dont’a Hightower’ on all the screens inside the Jets training facility,” Schefter relayed.
There’s a weird subtext of infantilization when it comes to college recruiting, but also free agency, and it makes sense that it’s more effective for the former, since the athletes are younger and more of them might be awed by having their names on a big screen, but will the Jets’ cupcakes and free merchandise really do anything for a 27-year-old? The case could be made that every small gesture matters, and maybe some free agents are more swayed by the little things than others—and I am almost certainly reading too much into this—but every time one of these “details of the recruitment” stories comes out, they all sound incredibly pitiful. Think of Knicks owner James Dolan handing out copies of his mayo-jar-dropped-in-the-middle-of-Antarctica-white blues CDs to free agents, or the 2010 LeBron James sweepstakes, where president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh’s recent surgery inadvertently created the saddest presentation given to James:
That stylish cast sold the New York/Brooklyn market as slickly as head salesman Brett Yormark could have hoped. Less than two minutes later, in came the Knicks.
Their party was led by the slumping shoulders of James Dolan and Donnie Walsh, who is one of the best basketball minds of the last 25 years but who was wearing a neck brace and using a walker after surgery.
Former Knick Allan Houston and coach Mike D’Antoni were in the party, but the contrast between the Knicks and Nets contingents was startling. It may not be fair to say it, and there were certainly circumstances, but there was simply no getting around it. One would appeal to a 25-year-old superstar and one wouldn’t.
Then, sources have said, they gave a presentation that wasn’t all that different than the Nets’. Within a few minutes of the Knicks’ meeting, James was out of the building and on his way to lunch.
Both of those examples involve the Knicks, but still. Maybe the strategy of treating adults like middle schoolers works on a percentage of prospective players, but when it’s described in a report, it comes off as skeevy and generates secondhand embarrassment.
Anyway, Hightower might be stuck in New Jersey because of the weather. He’ll have a lot of time to think about those cupcakes.