The public power struggle between professional athletes and owners took another turn after a preview clip of LeBron James’ HBO show “The Shop” was released Thursday.
A visibly annoyed James and Antonio Brown have caused a stir after speaking out against teams that use what they perceive to be “smear campaigns” to control athletes.
James, the disgruntled Los Angeles Lakers superstar, has turned the franchise upside-down with his not-so-subtle disdain for his younger teammates.
Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, as well as fellow star teammate Le’Veon Bell, have become villains in Pittsburgh for going public with their gripes against the organization.
And throughout January and right up to the trade deadline, you couldn’t visit a sports site without hitting an article about Anthony Davis and his drama with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Of course, not helping matters was the fact that the media were happy to pour gasoline on the fire, since conflict equals narrative and narrative equals ratings for shows like ESPN’s “First Take.”
The clip in question shows James and Brown lamenting the “narrative” that owners try to push when a player begins acting out.
Brown tried to paint a picture of himself as the good company man, the hardworking football player done dirty by the suits in the front office.
“That’s the narrative they try to create once you doing your own thing,” Brown said. “It’s like, this guy’s a distraction. He’s this type of guy. All I’ve ever been is a guy who came from Central Michigan, sixth round, who worked his ass off.”
For what it’s worth, nobody seems to be accusing Brown of being lazy. They are, however, accusing Brown of being a distraction, which is demonstrably true.
LeBron then turned the conversation to Davis, suggesting that when Davis publicly requested a trade, that was the moment the Pelicans turned on him.
“Seven years in the league, nobody’s ever said anything negative about AD, but you can tell when the narrative changed when you don’t do what they want you to do,” he said.
On the one hand, James has a point — New Orleans made only two playoff appearances and won one playoff series in Davis’ seven years in the league, so of course the star ought to be forgiven for wanting to get traded where he can win.
This is even more stark when considering DeMarcus Cousins, drafted in 2010 in Sacramento and a veteran of the Pelicans’ locker room, took the midlevel exception of $5.3 million just so he can suit up in a playoff game for the first time in his career (Cousins missed last year’s playoffs with injury) for the Golden State Warriors this year.
On the other hand, James destroyed the Lakers’ chemistry by throwing all of his teammates plus coach Luke Walton under the bus in public, causing the very “distraction” that Brown railed against in his rant about the Steelers. What’s the old saying about throwing stones in glass houses?
The Pelicans have been using Davis in a role that is beyond unusual. They’re not playing him in crunch time minutes, they’re sitting him for selected games and they’re generally only suiting him up because the league office threatened to fine them if they don’t. The only real explanation is that the Pelicans don’t want Davis to get injured, which would torpedo his trade value.
Of note, Davis and James share the same agent, Rich Paul. That has obviously raised more than a few eyebrows after Davis initially seemed to want to team up with James.
And Bell, Brown’s teammate in Pittsburgh, decided to hold out for an entire season, refusing to play and wasting a year of his prime in order to protest the Steelers’ use of the franchise tag in salary negotiations. That touched off a yearlong controversy over whether Bell “owed” the Steelers and their fans anything and whether walking away from approximately $14 million was the strategy of a dedicated crusader for players’ rights or a selfish move by a petulant narcissist.
To be fair, it’s almost inarguable that James, Davis, Brown and Bell all took a PR hit after their respective fiascoes. But how much of that is their fault and how much of it was manufactured by teams and ownership?
Whether you believe James and Brown when they say teams and ownership persuade the media to perpetuate an anti-player bias or whether you think that men paid tens of millions of dollars to play a game for a living should stick to what they’re paid to do, this controversy isn’t going anywhere.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.