Originally Published: July 6, 2010

1. LeBron's Television Special

J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Of course it would end like this, with a personal decision that has become public property, offered for the world to consume on live TV. Everything has been building toward this LeBron James announcement on ESPN on Thursday night. Not since Game 5, not since his last visit to Madison Square Garden, not even since he and Dwyane Wade signed the contracts with a 2010 opt-out that turned this summer into Armageddon. This is almost two decades in the making, a product of a culture that long ago removed the borders between reality and reality TV.

"The Real World" has been on for 19 of LeBron's 25 years on the planet. He practically doesn't know life without it. He doesn't know an existence when private matters were just that, before every kiss and every spat were played out in front of the cameras. So it only makes sense that he would create a show to reveal his choice, that he would drag teams and fans along until the camera's red light comes on at 9 p.m. ET.

These were two actual, back-to-back headlines on one sports website (which one is irrelevant; we've all been guilty of sensationalizing the most trivial developments): "LeBron James Shows Up At Camp." And "LeBron James Joins Twitter in Advance of Free Agency Announcement." So a camp appearance and a new Twitter account are now considered national news?

People simultaneously complain about LeBron and enable him. His Twitter account followers quickly rocketed to 202,000. The number of people coming to our ESPN.com Daily Dime Live chats to talk free agency is triple the traffic generated during NBA Finals games. So it's not as if James will be delivering his news into an absence of interest.

We want instant tweets and live shots. There isn't anything that happens that can't be on YouTube within the hour. At last year's ESPY Awards afterparty, Stevie Wonder got on stage and started singing the chorus to "Thriller" over his "Superstition" track. I tried telling people about it the next day, then did a quick online search and found that yep, there was video online. Everything is online.

We've spent so long focusing on this summer of 2010 that we forgot the significance of the calendar year. It's the age of Twitter, iPhones and Slingbox. Any and every platform could come into play during the free-agent process. There was also a documentary crew following Chris Bosh, a traditional media form used in a decidedly unconventional way. Of course, Bosh documented plenty himself, tweeting about his eagerness to become a free agent and uploading a photo of himself and Wade dining together while saving a space for James.

The Raptors were put off by Bosh's display, and another team's executive thought poorly of it, too. "It diminishes the value of their team" to have him so openly courting other suitors, the exec said.

It almost makes you wonder whether the league will try to add even more stringent social media guidelines when it tries to crush the players during the next round of collective bargaining negotiations.

The irony is that LeBron generated the most attention even though his circle has kept the most essential piece of information a secret, as if they were PricewaterhouseCoopers guarding the Academy Award results. There has yet to be a definitive, credible report about which team's name will be on the next contract he signs. They also scaled back what could have been a grandiose cross-country tour and requested that all invited teams visit them in Cleveland. But LeBron has given so few tidbits to entice fans in various cities and said so little to quash talk of him leaving Cleveland that we were left to search for deeper meanings in every statement and facial gesture.

People who wonder how Kobe Bryant would have handled this have short memories. He strung everyone along before his opt-out summer of 2004, just as LeBron did. He had the Bulls, Knicks and Clippers come meet him, just as LeBron had teams meet him. (Although at least Kobe's pursuers got to go to Newport Beach instead of Cleveland). Two years later, Kobe changed his number, just as LeBron will next year. So it's a mistake to say Kobe wouldn't have done it the way LeBron did it. He has. He also went on radio to demand a trade, then appeared on another show to retreat from that position, then charged forward again in a different radio appearance. That was followed by the secretly taped parking-lot conversation in which he took swipes at teammate Andrew Bynum and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. Kobe didn't use technology; technology used him.

He might have been victimized even more by the Internet this year when skillful Photoshop users got hold of his Los Angeles Times Magazine photo spread and reimagined him as everything from E.T. to Willy Wonka. But instead of taking to Twitter to defend himself, Kobe went back to the court and took it out on opposing players. Could it be a coincidence that after the pictures appeared May 2 he scored at least 30 points in 10 of his next 11 games? Or that he became more guarded in his media dealings, doling out increasingly minimal answers as the Lakers went deeper into the playoffs?

Kobe is older now, and doesn't see the need to publicize every move. In 2004 he also caused an announcement of the announcement, sending word through Jim Gray that he would make his decision known the next day at noon, then milking one last day of drama before re-signing with the only team he'd ever played for, in the only place it made sense for him to continue playing.

This year, at 31, Kobe's contract extension talks were kept as quiet as the moment before a golf putt, even though the possibility of his joining this free-agent frenzy could have added accelerant to an already combustible story. But from the first day of training camp he cut off every contract-related question before they could be completely asked. He wouldn't talk about it on or off the record. Then, suddenly, there was an out-of-the-blue announcement that the extension was signed.

So LeBron isn't just chasing Bryant's five championships if he wants to be considered the best player of his generation, let alone of all time. He also must demonstrate the maturity Bryant has come to display in the past couple of years, which have been pleasantly drama-free.

Kobe's self-centered 2003-04 season came when he was the same age LeBron is now: 25. LeBron is still Kid James. Nothing screamed that louder than the Cleveland Plain Dealer's report that the Cavaliers' presentation to LeBron included a customized cartoon featuring LeBron and his friends. Think about that: A franchise thought the best way to gain the right to make a $120 million investment in a player was to show him cartoons?

LeBron will outgrow this need for attention. When we do this all again -- perhaps as soon as 2013 -- it won't be such a novelty for him. At his age, in this era, it was practically inevitable that he'd turn this into a grand televised event. Next time will be different.

The streaming video technology should be flawless by then.

J.A. Adande is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.

Free Agency Dimes past: June 30 | July 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

2. Raptors OK With Bosh To Cavaliers

3. Daily Dime Live Wrap

ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans, giving their opinions about free agency -- all in Daily Dime Live.


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