The midnight edition of SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt has been notable for the numerous ways it’s shaken up the mold, and one of those has been its willingness to address both sports media issues in general and ESPN and former ESPN personalities in particular (such as with Dan Patrick’s return). The latest example of this comes from Sunday’s show after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Game 7 victory over the Golden State Warriors, where Van Pelt delivered essentially a verbal, televised subtweet, going off on those who “have made your living ripping” LeBron:
“That’s the end of it. It is time to find a new axe to grind if you have made your living ripping him. Find a new act.”
That seems like a particular shot at soon-to-be-former ESPN colleague Skip Bayless, who definitely has made criticizing LeBron a big part of how he earns a living, continued that Sunday night with rants about how the Spurs would have beaten the Cavs and how Kyrie Irving was better than LeBron, and was mocked by current and former ESPN colleagues for that. Even though Bayless isn’t named, and even though he’s not the only media figure who fits that description, that’s certainly the association most viewers are going to make here, so it’s interesting to hear this on ESPN airwaves given the low tolerance for ESPN-on-ESPN criticism we’ve seen in the past. It seems unlikely ESPN’s going to do anything about people criticizing Bayless given that he’s already headed out the door, though.
Van Pelt’s criticism of those who “have made a living ripping” LeBron certainly has some merits, and it’s refreshing to see that on ESPN, which has often aired and promoted what feel like very forced criticisms of LeBron from the likes of Bayless. It’s worth considering that Van Pelt’s commentary here is somewhat of a hot take itself, though, declaring LeBron as “unimpeachable” and saying “that’s the end of it.” Forcing criticism of LeBron for the sake of criticizing LeBron is problematic, but so is the idea that stats from three particular games make an athlete “unimpeachable” and end any discussion about them, and exalting LeBron to the heavens carries its own set of pitfalls. Van Pelt’s right to point out that many people have been too harsh on LeBron for the purposes of embracing debate, and it seems that Bayless is continuing that trend, but viewers should be careful what they wish for here. The opposite of a Baylessian take isn’t a nuanced discussion, but rather a hot take in the other direction, and that’s not what many viewers are hoping for.