On Thursday night, Josh Levin and Tom Scocca chatted as they watched ESPN's broadcast of LeBron James: The Decision. This is a transcript of their conversation.
Tom Scocca: It sort of has to be the Cavs, doesn't it?
Josh Levin: Yeah.
TS: His choice is to go win a championship as Dwyane Wade's Scottie Pippen, or to go join a team that is not a championship team and hope it can grow or be further built into a championship team.
TS: And if he's going to do that, he might as well stay in Cleveland.
JL: Am I the only person who finds it amusing that this is sponsored by Bing and the University of Phoenix?
TS: Well, it is information!
JL: Did Google and Harvard already commit to covering the Brendan Haywood signing?
TS: The Ray Allen signing was covered by Hotbot.
TS: Is this like the election-day newscasts where they're winking about their exit polls but they're not allowed to say anything?
JL: It seems that way. The beginning of The Decision seems a lot like the prelude to The Decision. Is there going to be another show called The Decision: The Decision?
TS: Now he is in a tall chair, like he's doing a quiz show.
JL: This is just like Frost/Nixon. Do you think Jim Gray will get LeBron to admit that he's a crook?
TS: "I put myself in this position to have this process."
JL: "This process has been everything I've thought, and more."
TS: He's going to Kentucky!
TS: Kentucky has more cap room than anybody.
JL: He has Vitaminwater on his side table.
JL: And the color of his shirt appears to tie in with the color of his Vitaminwater.
JL: He is going to Vitaminwater!
TS: This is like a game of Password.
TS: "Is it warm in that city?"
TS: So, Miami.
JL: I am kind of shocked.
TS: I am disappointed.
JL: The crowd seemed shocked and disappointed.
JL: Do we think it's possible that he could still change his mind?
TS: He's not allowed to sign till tomorrow, right?
JL: Like a college basketball coach who takes a job for one day and then changes his mind and goes back to Creighton?
JL: Because he slept on it and realized he made the wrong decision.
TS: Shouldn't they be getting a camera and microphone on Dwyane Wade about now?
JL: Yes. And does LeBron realize that by saying he made the best decision for himself he's going to be called selfish?
TS: It is not totally clear to me that LeBron realizes that words mean things.
JL: They just showed LeBron's jersey being burned!
TS: That was the first exciting thing in this broadcast.
JL: I think that's the problem with The Decision. We can call it LeBron's Law: If you are voluntarily making a public Decision about your life, and the Decision will not be greeted by cheers and hugs and balloons, it's probably a bad idea to make said Decision on national television in front of a live studio audience.
TS: That's what Bosh and Wade really did by going first—they sucked all the joy out of the Miami option.
TS: Miami fans woke up this morning thinking, hey, we have a really good chance to win championships. Now they're like, huh, we have a really, really good chance to win championships.
JL: True. But I don't think there was any way for joy to be the predominant emotion coming out of The Decision unless the choice was Cleveland.
TS: There would have been some sort of emotional frenzy if it had been the Knicks.
JL: Don't you bus in children to your made-for-TV announcement so the children can cheer and squeal? Even the children—the children!!—seemed shocked and dismayed.
JL: It's like the kids were invited to the Bozo the Clown show and were forced to watch Bozo murder a puppy. With all the proceeds of the puppy-killing going to charity, of course. Also: Drink Vitaminwater.
TS: Yes! Except for a bunch of whooping thickset guys in Miami, nobody has been happy about this at all. Including LeBron! Another reason why they needed to get Dwyane Wade on camera about 40 minutes ago.
JL: Cavs beat writer Brian Windhorst tweets: LeBron just made his first God reference in the last seven years of interviews I've listened to.
JL: This is going to get ugly.
TS: I wondered about that! The man upstairs. I thought he meant Pat Riley.
JL: Poor LeBron.
JL: I feel bad for him now.
TS: Me, too.
JL: For someone so concerned with public relations, he seems utterly incapable of relating to the public.
JL: Really, this is all a PR failure.
JL: It's like he's having an affair and he just gave the Tiger Woods speech rather than the David Letterman one.
JL: We've learned that the quality of Michael Jordan's that LeBron has failed to emulate has nothing to do with basketball. It's Jordan's brilliance at not saying anything.
JL: He never talked in his commercials.
TS: He talked some, but only in tightly scripted wry-sounding snippets.
TS: LeBron talks and talks and not one word ever registers as meaning anything.
TS: But you are right about the PR debacle.
TS: Why didn't he appear alongside Bosh and Wade, so the three of them could announce it all together?
JL: That would've seemed more magnanimous. And maybe he would've kept his mouth shut a bit more.
TS: Then the storyline would have been three buddies decide to go in together to try to do something amazing.
JL: Rather than the storyline being asshole leaves Cleveland in assholish manner.
TS: Right! If they'd explicitly made it about James and Wade and Bosh playing together, then Miami would have just incidentally been the place where they all could go.
TS: The trouble with The Decision was that it put The Decision in the foreground.
JL: Also that it put The Decider in the foreground.
TS: It is an interesting prospect, three players that young and that good teaming up.
TS: There is a chance that the Heat could be unbelievably good. Record-shatteringly good. So good that framing the decision in terms of LeBron's desire to win one measly ring—to join Mengke Bateer in the club of ring-having NBA players—seems hopelessly small-minded.
JL: Another thing that just occurs to me—has the Moneyball era ended before it began in the NBA? We were just starting to see the cult of the general manager in pro basketball, with guys like Sam Presti and Daryl Morey smartly, stat-headedly building winning teams via smart acquisitions of undervalued assets.
JL: And now LeBron and Wade and Bosh say: Tell your statistics to shut up.
TS: Yeah, this seems like a setback to MoneyBasketBall.
JL: This will also make it harder for Bill Simmons to create the next draft of his Hall of Fame Pyramid.
JL: Which gets at a larger point: Professional sports are designed in such a way that we can learn who the best players are based on head-to-head performance.
TS: Or we can pretend we've learned that, anyway.
JL: This presents a new model: We will learn who the best players are because they will decide among themselves that they are the best and choose to play with each other.
TS: Actually Moneyball and LeBron/Wade/Bosh-Ball take the old model down, high and low.
TS: The statheads are dedicated to discovering the ways that our intuitions about quality are wrong, and to finding the combinations of players whose previously intangible merits add up to something that can beat the obviously impressive players.
TS: And then James, Bosh, and Wade are opting out of testing themselves personally against other stars.
TS: Is Chris Bosh the third-best big forward in the NBA? The 10th-best? The 15th-best? We'll never have any idea.
TS: Is this letter of his in Comic Sans? I think it is in Comic Sans.
JL: I believe it is. I think he wrote it in Print Shop on his Apple II.
JL: It is appropriate that it looks like a ransom note, because it is hard to pick out the craziest sentence in this letter.
JL: How about Gilbert on The Decision: "This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his 'decision' unlike anything ever 'witnessed' in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment."
JL: I guess that part's maybe kinda right.
TS: It's less crazy, that passage, when you realize he's using scare quotes where he should use a ™.
JL: Right. But how about this passage: "Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there. Sorry, but that's simply not how it works."
JL: At this point, it's good to remind oneself that we're talking about someone who plays with a ball. And not, say, Christ.
TS: I think he recognized the craziest sentence himself, because he used CAPS LOCK on it.
TS: "I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE"
JL: This letter is a testament to the fact that LeBron's many nicknames make him easier to mock.
TS: "Witness" isn't even a nickname. It's a ... branding aura?
TS: But the saddest part of this letter is not even produced by the wounded spirit of Dan Gilbert.
TS: It is produced by the built-in scripts of cavs.com.
TS: It is:
Official Player Sites
* Daniel Gibson
* J.J. Hickson
* Antawn Jamison
JL: That is sad.
JL: OK, one more quote: "This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown 'chosen one' sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And 'who' we would want them to grow-up to become."
JL: (1) Is Dan Gilbert pushing for the reserve clause? (2) Don't our children deserve to learn how to properly deploy quotation marks?
TS: Yeah, there he's just going nutso with scare quotes.
JL: So, does Dan Gilbert come out of this an American hero? He's sort of like Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. I can see Clevelanders pausing a moment to cheer him and wave their clubs before they go back to throwing 23 jerseys on the fire.
TS: I guess I feel Dan Gilbert's pain, but how did he get LeBron James on his team in the first place? Either an NBA conspiracy or dumb blind luck. God bless Cleveland, but the territorial draft was abolished long ago. The Cavaliers have as much inherent right to Akron's greatest player as the Wizards have to Kevin Durant.
JL: Right. And Kevin Durant, American hero because he just loyally re-upped with the Oklahoma City Thunder, is playing in OKC because the NBA let the team skulk away from Seattle.
JL: So buck up Cleveland. At least your team didn't get stolen. Oh wait, it did. But that was a different sport.
TS: At least you're not the Nets.