Years of recruitment, days of pitched plans, and a suspense filled press conference dominated the 24 hour news cycle. All the major networks were watching, hanging on his every word, waiting for a final decision. The decision made at the end of the process could make or break a program, sending shock waves throughout the landscape of the sport.
Does this all sound familiar? It should because it happens every single year for college recruits nationwide. It's also exactly what we saw happening with LeBron James and his "decision" to play in Miami. The decision itself is something for a different time and place, though. The curious part of it all was the process behind it.
The whole process wasn't as unprecedented as the media led everyone to believe, not by a long shot. Every year we see the same thing happen with 17 year old blue chip athletes in football and basketball.
Suitors lined up for a seat at the table with LeBron as the clock struck midnight on July 1st, opening the free agency period. The same things happens every year on campuses nationwide. Coaches sit by the phones and work their way across the nation, calling recruits as soon as they can official open recruiting for the year. It's always a race to get the first word and an exercise in leaving a lasting impression. Recruits, or in this case LeBron James, have their phones ring off the hook -- or nowadays their text message inbox explodes -- with organizations calling from throughout the country.
If it wasn't for James forcing teams to meet him on his own turf -- something the much hyped athletes can do in the pros or the NCAA -- he would've been treated to the ultimate recruiting visit everywhere he went. Cities were planning out where to take him, what celebrities to introduce him to, and what kind of fine dining he should experience. If this sounds familiar, it's because it's nothing more than a glorified official visit. High school athletes tour the facilities, meet the team, and are wined and dined for the allotted period of time.
Organizations laid out plan after plan in an effort to lure LeBron to their city. New York chose a branding and marketing angle, Cleveland used the hometown aspect, Chicago offered a young nucleus of talent, New Jersey offered global branding, and Miami pitched the ability for him to link with his friends and form a super-team, a la Captain Planet. College coaches do the exact same thing. They pitch academics to the smart kids, NFL/NBA readiness to the blue chip prospects, exposure for kids that love the limelight, and a father aspect for mothers sending their sons to school. Both in the case of James and blue chip recruits, elaborate presentations are given in an effort to sway the decision making process.
Finally, the whole saga ended a week after it began. On a much grander scale, LeBron held a "hat choice" press conference. He brought in a host, answered some questions about the process, and revealed his decision to the world, leaving one city to celebrate and countless others to weep. None of what transpired was particularly original. Across the country, athletes publicly announce their college choices in front of a live national audience. On signing day, ESPN is littered with kids choosing their schools and ceremonially signing their letters of intent. They do the same song and dance because they love the limelight.
The days of "I'm back" from Michael Jordan -- the greatest NBA player there's ever been -- are over. Athletes in every major sport on every level are looking for bigger and better ways to hog the spotlight. It begins in the teen years and extends until their relevancy has faded. This is what the present era of sport has brought us to.
None of us will ever experience what LeBron did on such a grand scale. On a smaller scale, however, high school athletes do the the same thing ever year. LeBron James didn't have a college recruitment process -- due to his own choice -- so he decided to be a kid over the last week. What we all saw because of it was a glimpse into the world of recruiting in athletics.