"I'm getting criticized for what I do in warm-ups? Stop." – LeBron James
The dumbest manufactured controversy I've ever seen is currently polluting sports talk, television, and online everywhere you look. And it's centered around a topic so ludicrously meaningless, so inherently vapid, so mindless in its execution on both sides, it makes me jealous of zombies because they don't have to waste brain activity on ingesting this tripe.
The national media is currently debating the "controversy" that has arisen from an NBA player's warm-up routine.
Not a game, not a thing that counts or matters. Not a topic that has any significance or meaning or value.
A warm-up routine.
What are we talking about? We're basically talking about practice.
(I'll wait for you to come back from watching the Allen Iverson clip.)
Of course that player is Miami Heat superstar LeBron James, who seems to attract more than his fair share of crackpot faux controversies. After footage of James' impressive array of dunks in warm-ups went viral, the tired talk about his refusal to participate in the slam dunk contest arose again. For not the second time, not the third, not the fourth, the fifth or the sixth, not the seventh…
Criticism of James dunking in warm-ups reached such a critical mass, James himself said he might stop his pregame show before later reversing course. James' coach, teammates, and even owner have had to speak out about the manufacturversy. Who in their right mind could possibly care enough to articulate a position on a pregame dunk routine? Where could this nonsense be coming from…
LeBron says he'll STILL do pre game dunks, even though it's like he's taunting fans who want him to do THE Dunk Contest? Give us a BREAK.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) February 28, 2013
Forget I asked…
No, really, forget I asked.
Don't worry, this isn't another column ripping First Take and Skip Bayless and how they continue to ruin sports with their continuing barrage of least common denominatorizing of everything, although that could happen daily.
This is a column crying out to networks, websites, television and radio asking us all to take a long look in the mirror and ask if this is what we really want to become. Wasting time by talking about frivolous rubbish like this. Does anyone find actual fulfillment in trying to debate the "controversy" of what an NBA player does in warm-ups? Do producers sit in their conference and meeting rooms and say, "we HAVE to get our talent to take sides on this LeBron pregame dunk story that is SWEEPING THE NATION, quick get me Tim Legler and Flip Saunders!" Does anyone who actually formulates or participates in these debates feel as if they've provided something meaningful to the greater sports dialogue?
Unfortunately, and you could certainly be fair in assigning plenty of blame to ESPN and its Baylessization for this, debate has become the cornerstone of sports talk. We need something to find controversy in, something to take sides over, something that can produce an absolute right and an absolute wrong. There's no room for gray areas anymore, which means intelligent, nuanced discussions with multiple perspectives have no place in the arena of sports fandom. It's either "LeBron James is the best player in history" or "LeBron James is an evil person for robbing fans who demand and deserve his participation in an exhibition contest."
And because sports punditry is becoming more and more of a cottage industry these days, critics of James are left grasping at straws thanks to his incredible play on the court this season. With James reaching even higher peaks, there's nothing of substance left to criticize. Can't criticize him for passing the ball in the clutch anymore, can't criticize him for being a bad teammate, can't say he never won a ring… so… hmm… I've got it… pregame dunking! Yes, that'll knock LeBron James down a peg or two!
And now we're left to live in a world where the media does nothing more than waste everyone's time. ESPN's Israel Gutierrez was forced to go on SportsCenter and talk about this pregame dunking controversy and instead of ripping off his microphone and walking off the set as he had every right to do, he calmly said, "it's a created controversy, let's be honest." Flip a channel north to ESPN2 and you'll hear a serious debate about said created controversy as if it matters.
It was the same phenomenon with ESPN's week-long celebration of Michael Jordan's birthday, which was really just a clever ruse to create silly debates about Jordan, James, and Kobe Bryant. Heck, even Jordan himself fell for it, which created another eye-rolling cycle.
There's a real live NBA season happening now with real live INTERESTING stories. The Spurs continuing to find success with an aging roster. The Clippers being a contender for the first time in anyone's lifetime. New York even has not one but two good teams! Paul George. Kyrie Irving. Kenneth Faried. The Celtics without Rondo, the Bulls without Rose. The revival in Golden State. And yet the only NBA topic anyone seems to care enough to talk about right now is something that doesn't happen in a game, but in pregame warm-ups. Because when there's no real controversy to debate, we'll just create one ex nihilo, and continue to ignore real things that matter.