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Thursday, December 12, 2002
Updated: July 22, 5:59 PM ET
Double-team standard

By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist

Why do so many of my peers in the media save all of their righteous indignation for black basketball players?

LeBron James
Could LeBron save the Lakers?
Yeah, there's a racial component to all the hub-bub surrounding LeBron James' appearance on The Deuce tonight. I admit there are several components at work here, including the media's refusal to acknowledge that sports are nothing more than entertainment, and the unwillingness to concede that the games we play never promoted the virtues and values we ascribed to them in the first place.

But at the core of the James debate is his black skin.

Nothing ticks off the sports-loving masses more than the appearance that a teenage black boy is headed to fame, fortune, an Escalade, a gold card at a local tattoo parlor and an endless supply of silicone-enhanced, blonde and brunette belly-warmers. Makes the skin crawl. It's a sure sign that we're not long for this world.

Every year, we hear about the travesty of 40 to 50 black boys throwing their lives away by declaring for the NBA draft too early, before they're ready, before a builder-of-men, like a Steve Fisher, gets ahold of them and looks the other way while a booster lines their wallets with "pocket money" and Fisher fattens his 401k..

No one says a word when hundreds of white boys jump straight to minor league baseball or hockey. No one cries for the 12-year-old tennis sensation. It's this sort of hypocrisy that makes me think there's something special about a black boy and a basketball.

LeBron James is certainly special, or at least we think so. We'll find out tonight when the most hyped high school basketball phenom since Lew Alcindor, the kid who has been compared to Jordan, the next Kobe Bryant, makes his national TV debut on ESPN2.

None other than Dick Vitale will call the game. It's gonna be awesome, baby.

And there's gonna be a lot of bitching and moaning.

ESPN, allegedly, has no business airing high school basketball games. The World Wide Leader already destroyed the Little League World Series, turning its American competitors into the Bingo Long All Stars hamming for the cameras. Now ESPN will further corrupt James' values and distort his ego. It will also send a terrible message to kids all across the country: Even high school sports are all about the Benjamins. James' home games can already be purchased on pay-per-view in the Akron area.

Lebron James
Want MJ's cell number? Ask LeBron, he's got it.
Because of all the hype, ESPN, the bootlicking posse, the SI cover, shoe companies, street agents and a 34-year-old mother who makes Annie Iverson look like June Cleaver, LeBron James doesn't have a chance to be the humble, unassuming, God-fearin', respectful basketball superhero we would like him to be.

So what?

Why should James' skills be any less celebrated, exploited and corrupted than Britney Spears' perky Ta-Tas, choreographed dance steps and so-so vocal chords?

They're both entertainers (Britney's Ta-Tas and James). Britney burst into the national spotlight as a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks. You think Britney is as wholesome as apple pie? The fact is that the entertainment industry turns people out, and we need to quit pretending that professional sports aren't apart of the entertainment industry.

Did we shed any tears as the music industry turned Michael Jackson into a freak? No. We gobbled up his music, mimicked his moonwalk and swore off plastic surgery.

Pro athletes are blasted for having unsavory entourages. James' business manager was/is an ex-con, a concert promoter. Check the background of most "concert promoters" or "band managers.'' It's the career of choice for many ex-cons. Who were Sinatra's business managers? You think Michigan booster/numbers man Ed Martin is a bad dude? Old Blue Eye's supporters would make Martin an offer he couldn't refuse.

My point is my peers need to save their tears for a battle they can win. Sports are a part of the entertainment industry. ESPN didn't make it this way. The major networks and all the money they poured into sports changed our games a long, long time ago. The creators of ESPN were just the first to fully recognize it and devise away to capitalize off of it.

Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com), the host of a morning-drive talk show, "Jason Whitlock's Neighborhood" on Sports Radio 810 WHB (810whb.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of The Sports Reporters. He can be reached at ballstate0@aol.com.

You can watch LeBron in action Thursday Dec. 12 on ESPN2 -- followed by NEXT -- at 9 p.m. ET.