Saturday, May 8, 2010

A New York Tabloid’s Seduction of Lebron James

A New York Tabloid’s Seduction of Lebron James

By Evan Weiner

May 7, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- United States security officials are still investigating the Times Square bombing attempt, Greece is falling off the economic cliff, there is a flood cleanup in the heart of Nashville, the BP oil spill has not been capped in the Gulf of Mexico, the stock market blew a fuse on Thursday, a volcano in Iceland is still throwing ash into the sky and causing some airplane disruptions in Europe, the United Kingdom had an election and Roland Martin wore an ascot on CNN which became a running joke on The Daily Show for two days yet the New York Daily News, Mort Zuckerman's New York Daily News had an open letter to Lebron James on the front page of May 8's edition, please come to New York and sign with the Knicks after James becomes a free agent on July 1. Zuckerman's headline writer had a plea to Lebron.

This Is Home.

Actually Akron, Ohio is home for Lebron.

On pages 8 and 9 of the tabloid, there were articles and then a comparison between New York and Cleveland and why New York is better. This is not an unusual Daily News tactic. When the Knicks played Indiana in the playoffs in the 1990s, the tabloid poked fun at Indianapolis and Indiana using the headline "The Knicks Versus the Hicks".

Disrespectful yes, but tabloids have no time for hurt feelings. Especially New York tabloids in the midst of in what seems to be the Hundred Years' (tabloid) War.

The "This is Home" complete with pictures of the Statue of Liberty and Lebron front page (Emma Lazarus probably wasn't thinking of Lebron when she wrote give me your tired and poor line as part of her sonnet, The New Colossus which is immortalized on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty) was just the latest New York media's love note to Lebron, the wooing of Lebron in the New York papers is akin to the Knicks trying to recruit Lebron and it appears Knicks owner James Dolan has no problem with the New York tabloids gushing over Lebron who is a free agent come July 1. Dolan who himself owns a newspaper -- Newsday -- has been quiet on the subject, he could be accused of tampering with a player under contract to another team and Newsday has not been out in front of showing love and affection for the Cleveland Cavaliers player.

Zuckerman, whose paper (along with Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, the New York Times and Newsday) put up money for the establishment of the NYC2012 Olympic Committee and himself a part owner of the Washington Redskins, cannot be serious or can he? The Daily News is in a struggle with the New York Post for tabloid domination in the New York market, neither paper puts out much of a useable product as both are filled with mayhem, murder, entertainment and sports news with a lot of sensationalism and on top of that ESPN's new New York website poached Zuckerman's product and took a number of sportswriters.

The Daily News needs readership and if Lebron and the Statue of Liberty and "This is Home" sells papers, that is fine.

The Lebron on the Saturday cover and two-page in the non-sports section articles along with a blow up of Lebron in a Knicks uniform is a thoroughly unprofessional of a journalistic endeavor however and sophomoric at best. The paper seems to be on collectively hands and knees in begging mode, please Lebron look at me status. The only thing missing was Zuckerman's star writer, Mike Lupica (who in the 1990s was Garden President Dave Checketts stenographer and MSG's chief welcome wagon host in his love letters in the sand to MSG columns and Lupica is still pining for those days when the Knicks and Rangers mattered and the Garden was either the hippest or coolest spot on Earth---perhaps he can again hire people like he did back in the 1990s to tell him how the Rangers played and write coherent columns about hockey as well) did not write the valentines to Lebron pieces but that will soon be coming from the Daily News superstar political and sports columnist as the days dwindle down to July 1.

(Love Letters in the Sand was written by J. Fred Coots. Coots also wrote Santa Claus is Coming to Town and the Rangers Victory Song – the New York Rangers fight song back in the 1930s and 40s and beyond.)

The New York tabloid papers basketball coverage have been nothing more than let’s hope Lebron falls in love with New York cheerleaders and the papers are perhaps one step ahead of the New York sports talk radio shows in their infatuation. The hosts of those radio shows also pine for Lebron's love for New York.

Zuckerman, who has the very serious magazine, US News and World Report, has not mentioned in any of his coverage that Lebron's maximum annual NBA contract would allow him to make about $14 million a year is about the same amount of money that Madison Square Garden would pay in property taxes except Dolan doesn't have to pay property taxes. Dolan doesn't pay because in the early 1980s, Gulf and Western, then Garden owners, somehow convinced Mayor Ed Koch, the New York State Legislature and New York Governor Mario Cuomo that the NBA's Knicks and the NHL's Rangers could not be financially viable and could not compete with small market teams for talent without a reduction in property taxes and help with the Con Ed electric bill.

The Knicks and Rangers stayed in a valuable parcel of real estate not far from Macy's or Times Square, Gulf and Western got the property off the city's books and Con Ed customers paid for the privilege of having the two teams stay in Manhattan by picking up the Garden's electric tab. The New York State-Garden deal seems to be one of those that will last in perpetuity or eternity.

Zuckerman seems to be trying to play the Jack Murphy role in getting two big league sports franchise in San Diego in 1961 and 1969 in the pursuit of Lebron James. There is no secret that newspapers like to shape public opinion and make endorsements for political candidates and public policy. But a newspapers main goal is not reporting news per se. The news is the lure or the bait for people to look at the newspaper and check out the advertisements. It is the ad money that newspapers have lived and died with. Ad money has been evaporating for newspapers over the past decade and the product has suffered as writers have been let go.

The Lebron on the front cover is a ploy to get people to sample the Daily News. Zuckerman is not Jack Murphy though. Jack Murphy is a forgotten figure in sports and probably belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame as a contributor. Murphy was a columnist and the sports editor of the San Diego Union in the 1950s. San Diego was a quiet, navy town in the 1950s but Murphy reached out to the owner of the American Football League's Los Angeles Chargers, Barron Hilton (the grandfather of Paris Hilton) and began a city pursuit of Hilton's football team. Murphy did convince Hilton that San Diego was a much better venue for his fan-challenged Los Angeles Chargers but there was a potential short term and long term problem.

San Diego lacked a suitable professional football stadium. With Hilton's team ready to move southward but not having a home, Murphy began writing that the Chargers needed a real stadium not the patchwork Balboa Stadium (some renovations at the facility to make it an acceptable AFL stadium were done by Chargers players including Jack Kemp and Paul Maguire) which sat 34,000 people. Murphy pushed to get public support in a referendum to build a real stadium and voters responded by passing the $27 million stadium ballot in November 1965. The new stadium opened in 1967 with the Chargers football team as the main tenant. After Murphy passed away in 1980, San Diego Stadium became Jack Murphy Stadium. The name didn't stick along as changing economics forced a naming rights partner's logo on the stadium in exchange for multi-million dollar checks that went to help pay off players salaries.

A series of factors led both the American and National Leagues in baseball to expand in 1969. Neither league had an expansion plans on the table but when Kansas City A's owner took his team to Oakland after the 1967 season, Missouri Senator Stuart Symington threatened Major League Baseball with stripping the antitrust exemption that the Supreme Court gave the game in 1922. Senator Symington demanded a replacement for Finley's A's as soon as possible which meant 1969.

Initially, the National League did not want to add teams until 1971 but with Symington breathing down Baseball's neck and the American League committing expansion franchises to Kansas City and Seattle, National League owners took San Diego as one territory and Montreal or Buffalo for the other expansion team. Montreal officials were about to secure a ballpark while San Diego had a major league stadium ready to go. Buffalo did not get a team and was a fallback in the event Montreal could not produce a stadium.

Murphy got two franchises into San Diego. Zuckerman waves pom poms for the Knicks. It would be interesting to see how Zuckerman would have reacted if he had more of a financial stake in the Washington Redskins and papers in other markets wanted the Redskins best player and spent years courting the superstar player.

NBA Commissioner David Stern cannot stop Zuckerman's bouquets to Lebron and Stern must know that the Knicks from Dolan to the team's president Donnie Walsh to others in the Garden, while not actively encouraging sportswriters and the papers to seduce Lebron are also not discouraging writers to blow kisses at Lebron. Sportswriters for all their talk about being professionals are fans too and are happy to cover a winning team. The New York Knicks basketball franchise has not been a good product for years.

Lebron is not going to sell any papers anyway. Those days are long gone; newspapers have too much competition from other media sources. But don't tell that to Mort on Rupert. They are in a tabloid war and if Lebron or Dwayne Wade, individually or together, don't come to New York, there is always Carmelo Anthony waiting for free agency in 2011. In fact some New York basketball fans, rather writers, think that Lebron will spurn them and are already making eyes at the Denver Nuggets player. Until Lebron makes a decision, the newspaper seduction of Lebron James will continue in New York.

Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and a lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business." He is available for speaking at

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