By BEN SHATZMAN
Skip Bayless is an entertaining guy. I enjoy watching him mix it up with Stephen A. Smith on First Take. He is perfect for television. He has a knack for getting under his counterpart’s skin, a keen understanding of playing “devil’s advocate” and is a character whose presence alone ensures that viewers will be entertained.
I respect his accomplishments and recognize that he is a veteran in the sports journalism world. But over the past few years, my respect for Bayless as a sports connoisseur has dwindled. Yesterday, that respect reached an all-time low when ESPN published his column titled “Angry Lebron.”
Bayless’ unbelievably low opinion of LeBron James has been among the most publicized and scrutinized views of any sports figure in recent years. Bayless predicted that James would never win an NBA title. When James signed with the Miami Heat and subsequently lost in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, Bayless jumped all over it. After the series, he pointed solely to James as the reason for the Heat’s loss. Bayless failed to give any significant credit to that guy named Dirk Nowitzki — you know, the 7-footer who put on an epic performance in that series. He failed to entertain the idea that maybe the Mavericks beat the Heat. To Bayless, the only possible explanation for the Finals was that LeBron had lost it on his own.
There is more. Bayless did not include James in his list of the Top-five NBA players at a time when LeBron was widely accepted to be the best in the league — and if not, then a close second. Skip then said that James did not deserve to win MVP and should not even have been in the discussion after a season in which James came relatively close to averaging a triple-double. His claims look absurd on paper, but it makes me cringe in hindsight to watch the videos of Bayless acting 100 percent certain of himself, unwilling to entertain possibilities that the majority of NBA fans believed to be indisputable.
Those predictions were a few years ago. LeBron James has won back-to-back NBA titles since then. He has won back-to-back MVP awards. Since James won his first title, Bayless eased off on the hate, but barely. In that sense, Bayless reminded me of a 12-year-old who is so afraid to admit being wrong that he whines and complains and makes it painfully obvious that he knows how wrong he was.
As a fervent King James supporter, I relished watching Bayless continue to disrespect him. I figured that at some point he would give LeBron the respect he deserved. So when I read the first sentence of Skip’s “Angry LeBron,” it seemed that maybe, just maybe, Skip had finally grown a pair. He opened the column with this:
“This no doubt has come as a discombobulating shock to LeBron lovers who watch ‘First Take’ in part to see just how much I will ‘hate’ on their four-time MVP and two-time champion.”
Finally, Skip had come clean. So I thought. I was quite mistaken.
In what appeared to be writing supporting James — that is what Skip said it was — he offered sentence after sentence of blatant shot-taking at LeBron, both as a player and as a person. I needn’t quote the sorry piece of writing that to me resembles the lowest of the low in the Skip-LeBron saga. The arrogance and self-promotion are palpable. Sports Illustrated writer Richard Deitsch tweeted his regular Bayless “first-person count,” which landed in the 20’s. Skip holds so much pride in his utterly inaccurate predictions, knows now that he is obviously wrong, decides to write a column finally expressing support for LeBron James and then proceeds to become an insecure brat from the second paragraph to the final sentence.
Please, please read the entire column. Every sentence is oozing with Bayless’ inability to admit misjudgment. He has no right to mention the name “LeBron James” after this blatant disrespect. His basketball opinions are irrelevant and serve no other purpose than morning entertainment.
Consistent brilliant journalism is published on ESPN’s Grantland. It is a shame that lowly Skip Bayless is able to publish nonsense like this on the front page of ESPN.
Stick to TV, Skip.