Sometime around 9:10 p.m. ET, our long national nightmare will be over. LeBron James will announce that he is leaving basketball, hiring Hank Haney to be his coach, and attempting to qualify for the PGA TOUR in 2011. Details are sketchy about his debut tournament: Miami (WGC-CA Championship), New York/New Jersey (The Barclays), Chicago (BMW Championship), or hometown Akron (WGC-Bridgestone Invitational). After all, where you play says so much about who you are!
OK, the last paragraph was far-fetched…but not unthinkable given all the silly things that have happened in the King James Courtship. Our Golf Channel colleague Jim Gray will actually be the first to talk to LeBron when he makes his announcement. The first question he should ask is relevant to golf as well: Why did you let the sideshow overshadow your performance in the sport?
To be fair in golf, the top players generally let their clubs do the talking. Tiger, of course, is the clear exception, but only after the tabloids decided his life was more interesting than Tom Cruise or Lindsay Lohan. As you saw clearly in his press conference after the JP McManus Pro-Am, Tiger is doing everything he can to shut down that type of interest in his personal life and move everything back to the golf course. It is tough to put the proverbial genie back in the proverbial bottle, but Tiger definitely has the cork in his hand to try. And it is a battle that he knows he must win.
For true fans of a sport, the on-course (or on-court) performance is all they care about anyway. Did you see the throngs that trailed Tiger at Aronimink for the AT&T National? The folks that read TMZ would not follow him around for 4 hours in 100 degree heat, trust me. These were fans for whom the number they most associate with Woods is 14 (as in his major total), not 750 (as in millions).
It will always be true in sports. Whether a player wears the white hat of the hero or the black hat of the villain based on the background information culled from news outlets, their performance will remain the driving force in fan interest. Do you root for Phil Mickelson because of the way he has dealt with family health issues? Or does Ernie Els strike your fancy because of his advocacy for autism? When those players tee it up, that back story only amplifies whatever emotion is inspired by their performance on the grandest stage.
So, LeBron, when you are done filling out change of address forms and updating your direct deposit accounts, drop a call to some of golf’s stars. They will tell you what you should have learned this month: when the sideshow gets bigger than the main event, you are not giving your fans what they really want. Give them the show… not the sideshow.