Update, July 11, 2014: It’s official: LeBron James is returning to Cleveland.
For the last couple of days, NBA reporter Chris Sheridan has insisted on two things: LeBron James will sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he will make that announcement on his website, lebronjames.com. If Sheridan is correct, a lot of people are going to be very disappointed. That’s because James’ website is a browser-melting abomination.
As of Thursday afternoon, the LeBron James Internet experience begins with a brief animation that settles on the still image you see at the top of this article.
In that animation, a cartoon skyline slowly rises to the heavens, and it's followed by a series of four photos that swoop in from the right margin: LeBron talking on the phone while golfing, LeBron in an Akron baseball cap, LeBron in workout gear, and LeBron grinning toothily while holding a championship trophy and a Finals MVP award.* The note of humility at the top—“Just a Kid from Akron, Ohio”—is nicely offset by the self-congratulatory labels at the bottom: “The Man,” “The Philanthropist,” The Businessman,” “The Athlete.” This is the website of an NBA superstar. It is nothing out of the ordinary.
Click to learn more about “The Athlete” and … that same animation loads again. The cartoon skyline again rises into the firmament. He’s still just a kid from Akron, Ohio. He’s still on the golf course, still conversing with the same degree of urgency, still wearing dark sunglasses and an aggressively pink shirt.
Unless you’re browsing lebronjames.com on a monitor that’s as tall as LeBron James, it’s entirely unclear how you’re supposed to move beyond this screen and get to learning anything beyond the fact that LeBron is just a kid from Akron, Ohio. To read about “The Athlete,” it turns out, you need to scroll down, at which point you’ll see a tessellation of blog-post-promoting hexagons.
These hexagons convey no information at first glance. There is no hierarchy or chronology, and no text that allows you to distinguish between a photo of LeBron and another photo of LeBron. Mouse over the hexagons, and you’ll discover that these are stories about James’ 2014 playoff run, though the hexagons mysteriously stop after Game 3 of the NBA Finals. (To learn who ended up winning the series, you can consult Wikipedia.)
Click on the “Heat Bounce Back | Win Game 2” hexagon (illustrated by a photo of LeBron boxing shirtless) and … this cartoon skyline will not leave you the hell alone. Golfing. Pink shirt. Akron. Trophies. Scroll past all that garbage and you’ll get a short game story that notes that LeBron played with “a ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ mentality.” The page is topped by an inspirational tweet from Powerade.
The best way to evaluate a website or any other product is to consider whether its design serves its purpose. There are a bunch of reasons why LeBron James might want a website: to serve as a clearinghouse of authorized biographical details, to promote his foundation, to shill for his sponsors, and to sell some gear.
To look at lebronjames.com, you’d imagine that its proprietor was an animator who specialized in two-dimensional skylines. In its current form, this site is useless as both an information source and as a promotional tool. I will admit to being less likely to purchase Powerade than I was five minutes ago.
If you have the patience to scroll past the gaudily pointless bells and whistles, you'll be struck by the site's inattention to detail. The section on “The Athlete” includes items about the 2014 playoffs, but not LeBron's two NBA titles and four MVP awards. That section also features a large, distracting background image that depicts some sort of journey from Detroit to Akron, a woman named Nicole Curtis, and the phrase “Rehab Addict.” This image is not clickable, nor is it explained in any way. If you happen to click a small, unreadable icon on the bottom left of the screen, though, you’ll find out that Curtis is a television host from Detroit who’s working with LeBron to do a home renovation in West Akron. Not sure if that was worth another skyline animation, but there you go.
It doesn’t really matter that lebronjames.com is ugly and useless. Nobody will think less of LeBron because his website consists of a series of inscrutable hexagons, and there are plenty of other places to read about LeBron James and to buy his merchandise.
If there is a larger lesson here—aside from the fact that you’ll want to burn an animated skyline to the ground if you’re forced to watch it load a dozen times—it’s that there’s often an inverse relationship between what you spend on a website and how useful it is to visitors.
Though I haven’t managed to track down any invoices, I’d imagine that LeBron paid a good amount of cash for this HTML apocalypse. I’m reminded of my former colleague Farhad Manjoo’s polemic against restaurant websites, which tend to obscure the menu and street address beneath a seven-layer dip of superfluous Flash slideshows. As Manjoo notes, “designers make more money to create a complicated, multipage Flash site than one that tells you everything you want to know on one page.”
LeBron’s site doesn’t tell you anything you want to know, and it takes a lot more than one page to do it. Compare to Kobe Bryant’s site and Dwyane Wade’s, which look needlessly expensive but are at least navigable. And then there’s kevindurant.com, which is nothing more than a single-page invitation to apply for grants from his foundation. So simple. So humble. Finally, an Internet role model that our children can believe in.
*Correction, July 10, 2014: This post originally misstated that LeBron James is holding two championship trophies. He's holding a championship trophy and a Finals MVP award.