The main factor in Allie LaForce and, likely, a TNT producer, deciding it was worth asking LeBron James about the death of Erin Popovich mere minutes after the Cavs star finished pouring 46 points in against the Pacers was the desire to create good television. They wanted James’ reaction to the tragic news and knee-jerk thoughts on their broadcast. That’s the salient point to keep in mind when wading through the myriad reactions to the controversial moment– even more important than if he was briefed before going on air.
It’s the reason why those who are criticizing the decision aren’t automatically part of a pitchfork-wielding internet outrage mob. Any attempt to paint them as such absolves TNT of making a dubious and cynical editorial choice.
Turner PR, Ernie Johnson, and James himself made it clear that LaForce had initially broken the news off-air.
This provides important context, but it’s surprising to me that so many think this was the only issue to be resolved. Of course some are going overboard with their criticism and it was important to interject more facts. But this incident wasn’t born solely out of a mistake in execution. The exercise was flawed from the get-go.
TNT opted to inform James because they wanted the content. There was no pressing public interest in doing so. There was no looming deadline as the situation was static and could have been addressed more delicately during post-game availability. Even with the close Popovich-James relationship, the subject was quite far afield from the event being covered — especially when one considers the traditionally narrow scope of afterglow interviews. They decided their quest to be entertaining outweighed James’ right to process the news in private.
That so many were instantly turned off by the question is profound evidence it may not have been the right choice. The so-called outrage mob didn’t have to compare notes on this one before reacting. Frankly, it was one of the more organic repudiations you’ll see in 2018. Knowing what we know now, LaForce should have somehow indicated that James had been informed previously. Without that information, the viewer has no choice but to think they’re seeing a complete ambush. It’s not their fault if they react accordingly because — at the end of the day — the broadcast speaks for itself in real-time. The motivations and behind-the-scenes stuff isn’t immediately knowable to the average fan.
There’s something ironic about trying to honor Popovich in a difficult time with a deeply personal in-game televised interview. It’s also bizarre that LaForce and James powered through it as if there was no prep.
One can appreciate Turner’s willingness to have LaForce’s back, but the subsequent statements serve to put even more undue scrutiny on James. After graciously agreeing to a tough question, his reward is being accused of “acting” surprised during the interview.
Again, all of this because TNT wanted to be sole proprietors. At what point of all this cleanup do they consider that maybe it wasn’t just the execution that went awry? At what point do they consider maybe it wasn’t such a good idea in the first place?
Perhaps I’m being too cynical. What I see, though, is an avoidable mess made in a delicate situation. If the goal was to elicit a powerful moment and showcase humanity, then TNT failed. This controversy obscures any of that.
Of course, if that were the main objective, James would have been afforded the chance to process the news on his own time, compose himself, and offer thoughts. Asking him to do it with his sweat still dripping and on the spot was more about making good television.
Disagree if you will. Just spare me the naiveté.