A few years before LeBron James’ decision last month to take his talents to Los Angeles and effectively gain one of those coveted courtside seats to Laker games, his not-so-subtle decision to take his family to Brentwood and immerse himself in the La La Land mystique as a burgeoning media mogul took shape.
As we discussed in today’s episode of The Drill Morning Briefing 08.08.18, the recent acceptance of Showtime, HBO and CBS to partner up with an assist from James’ Burbank-based SpringHill Entertainment company could be the ultimate buzz of the TV Critics Association gathering in Pasadena this week. And that’s without James even showing up to do one of the mass interview sessions that tries to generate paragraphs and sound bites that start to trend on Twitter and make people curious.
The latest: Something they’ve cleverly called “Shut Up and Dribble” will debut on Showtime in October. The three-part documentary series that James will serve as one of three executive producers will look at the evolution of NBA players and “the changing role of athletes in our fraught cultural and political environment,” according to the network press release.
Hence, the title, which came from conservative-slanted talking head Laura Ingraham was dismissive of James last February as he and players from the Golden State Warriors were talking about passing on any ceremonial trip to the White House after last summer’s NBA Finals. Ingraham should be screaming for a royalties check based on this outcome, but that would only be more self serving.
Too bad she didn’t come up with “Stay In Yo’ Lane” before LaVar Ball made it into a slogan/T-shirt/media moment.
“The controversy serves as a prologue to the series as it chronicles the modern history of the NBA and its players, starting with the 1976 merger of the freewheeling ABA and the more conventional NBA of today,” Showtime said in a statement. “The league soon became an incubator for many of its top athletes to grow their brands beyond the court, becoming powerful players in commerce and fashion and transcending the game to become cultural icons.”
The key component to this project is Gotham Chopra, who has done several docs for DirecTV’s Audience Net about sports and religion, and also recently teamed up with Tom Brady and Michael Strahan for some media projects.
Showtime Sports Documentary Films will team with James on this. James’ agent/partner Maverick Carter will also be an executive producer.
“If being a star athlete is inherently a political experience, ‘Shut Up and Dribble’ tells that complex and dramatic story from the past to the present and from the inside out,” David Nevins, president and chief executive of Showtime Networks said in a statement. “LeBron James is one of many competitors whose place in the spotlight has led not to silence but perspective, and he, Maverick Carter and Gotham Chopra have given us an important, insightful docuseries that should bring their fans and fellow citizens to a higher level of discourse, rather than the dismissal satirized in the title.”
Also this week, CBS said it would pick up “Million Dollar Mile,” a 10-episode competition for everyday athletes which sounds a lot like “American Ninja Warrior,” an NBC property. This is a result of James’ relationship with Warner Brothers, which in 2015 gave him more than $15 million to help jumpstart his media company.
Warner Brothers is important in that it helped James create his media platform Uninterrupted, and one of the first things he put on that was a show called “The Shop,” where he and others are in a local barber shop discussion the news of the day. That began as a project on Turner Sports’ Bleacher Report platform about four years ago.
But that led to the announcement last month that James’ company sold a show “The Shop” to HBO starting Aug. 28. A few episodes have already taped in a West Hollywood barber shop, the first of which will include guests Jon Stewart, Candace Parker and Snoop Dogg.
James calls it important to focus on “the essence of conversation …. Which these days seems like a lost art.”
As Bob Ley and Chris Connelly discussed James’ latest ventures in a segment on “Outside The Lines” Tuesday called “ ‘King’ of all media,’ it refocused on the idea that James’ setting up shop in Los Angeles/Hollywood is critical to what he’s trying to accomplish because of his immediate and frequent accessibility to those in the business who want to partner up with him and idolize his abilities to connect with fans like them.
“You think of a guy who comes to Los Angeles and you say, ‘Well, he’s got some funds, he’s going to live in Brentwood, he’s going to send his child to Crossroads, an academically rigorous and culturally progressive school (in Santa Monica) … OK, that sounds like a producer’,” said Connelly.
“Oh, by the way, he’s also the best basketball player on the planet. And the most outspoken social activist in his sport as well.”
So that Lakers’ courtside seat is on the bench, not across from the bench. You know L.A. – it’s all about location. As well as having your life documented as much in Variety, Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter as in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and ESPN.
James’ decision to do all this – using his power in the medium to make mankind better – is an interesting juxtaposition to Kobe Bryant’s media ventures. He won an Oscar for putting together a short film about how much he loves basketball. He’s part of the ESPN/ABC NBA coverage with his pre-game snippets about how he breaks down the game.
James, it appears, wants to break down life. It goes way beyond his cameo in “Trainwreck,” and is about to perhaps train other athletes how they should use their superpowers in future media endeavors.
“He’s going to work – he’s got a dozen projects set up all over town,” Connelly noted. “That’s an aggressive slate. He’s not resting his laurels on one particular thing.”
Not even on a revamp of “Space Jam.”
* HBO’s revival of the drama/comedy “Ballers” hits season four on Sunday night at 10 p.m.
We have more to say about it all at this link in the Los Angeles Times.
* Two years removed from the rise and fall of Rams coach Jeff Fisher and the team’s move to L.A. was documented and then used against them, HBO’s latest incarnation of “Hard Knocks” with the Cleveland Browns got some momentum Tuesday night by having recorded and presented a speech by receiver Jarvis Landry.
USA Today notes it was a “1,080-word expletive-laced speech in the receivers room in training camp — one of the most memorable speeches in the history of HBO’s Hard Knocks show.”
When we get the time soon to sift through the DVR captures, we’ll update.
* Does the Pac-12 Network not focus enough of football? Distribution issues aside, this is the message that Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News dives into with his latest piece about a “tactical pivot.”
“The universities and the athletic directors have told us they want to emphasize football,” networks president Mark Shuken told Wilner. “We want to give the people what they want, when they want it, and interest is clearly driven by football. We just had to plan how to do it.”
Writes Wilner: “The networks should be all about football — about marketing the product and deepening the connection — whenever the opportunities arise. Except for six years, they weren’t. Under Shuken and (new executive producer Larry) Meyers, it appears, they will be.”
“We have to elevate and promote the value of our football product to potential distributors for the next six months and the next six years,’’ Shuken said. (The conference’s Tier 1 media rights deals expire in 2024.)
* Fox Sports began its commitment last weekend to covering of the inaugural Jr. NBA World Championships, highlighting 300 of the the top 14U boys and girls teams from 35 countries, leading into the title games this Sunday (Channel 11, 12:30 p.m. with the girls final, and 1:45 p.m. for the boys final), going head-to-head with CBS’ coverage of the PGA Championship final round.
Why ESPN didn’t grab this event taking place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at near Orlando, Fla., may be another story.
Gus Johnson is involved on play-by-play, with analysts that include Vince Carter, who plans to start his 21st NBA season in Atlanta this fall and has dabbled in broadcasting already at ESPN and TNT as a test to see if that could hold his interest in a post-playing career.
Carter was one of many in the NBA who’ve taken up the NBAPA’s creation of “Sportscaster U” at Syracuse — a training ground to see if players might be interested in this platform. Carter said he did it five years ago and was hooked.
“Sometimes as a player you get fed up with some of the questions that are asked, like ‘How come you didn’t ask it this way,’ and I would just listen and try to break down why,” Carter said in answer to one of our questions during a conference call with other reporters late last week.
“I think it started a year or two before I got in, and I was like, hmm, and it’s something that I thought I might have had an interest in. I enjoy coaching the game but I don’t want to be a coach. And I think this is another way you can coach the game but to a different crowd, because everybody watches the game and sometimes they wonder, ‘W\why do they do this? Why do they say this?
“So I get to do that every night for a couple hours a game, and I think it’s another way to be a coach. I love this, the way to prepare, the way to study, the way to talk about the game. It felt easy to me. It’s stuff I’ve already had a passion for, and now it’s just getting the schooling and the way to properly use it.”
Carter says he knows everyone tells him to “just be yourself.” But he has to have some current NBA analyst influences. Right?
“That’s the biggest no-no — well, when I say that — your question, yes, I watch a lot of guys, whether it’s on my TV or whatever, I listen to what they’re doing, how they do it, blah blah blah,” Carter told us. “I try to — if anything I will take things that I feel like I wouldn’t do that just doesn’t work for me. I more so just take those.
“I study. I ask questions. I’ve talked to many people. Grant Hill (now the top CBS college basketball analyst) is a very good friend and a neighbor of mine. We’ve had conversations about do’s and don’t’s, things that he likes and doesn’t like — and there’s things that he doesn’t like that I like to do.
“I’m not going to say I’m a fan of everyone, but I watch everyone and I learn and I see how they do it. Am I comfortable in that situation doing those type of things. That’s how I’ve learned. Yes, the first thing they say is, ‘Hey, be yourself. Nobody knows the game like you do, obviously, because you’re still playing it.’ So I tried to do that in the beginning and just add me hopefully along the way, add a better me for when that day comes that I do this as a career.”
Could Carter go LeBron (or Kevin Durant) and some day launch his own media company?
“I think that’s something for them, their stardom,” he said. “It’s easy to think of down the line. It’s a possibility. I just try not to get too far ahead of myself because outside of the things musically that I enjoy, as it all comes together, I could potentially do something like that. But not right now. “
More info: https://jrnbawc.nba.com/
* NBC’s Premier League coverage starts on location in the U.K. this weekend — against the norm, since most games are broadcast over TV screens in Stamford, Conn. — with four games over three days.
Rebecca Lowe returns as the anchor on pre- and post-match studio shows. A three hour live “Transfer Deadline Show” actually launches Thursday at 8 a.m. on NBCSN, as well as a new “Men In Blazers Show” at 11 a.m. with Roger Bennett and Michael Davies.
The coverage this weekend:
– Arlo White and Robbie Mustoe call Manchester United playing host to Leicester City (Friday, noon, NBCSN).
– Derek Rae and Mustoe call Newcastle vs. Tottenham (Saturday, 4:30 a.m., NBCSN) while White and Robbie Earle are on Wolverhampton vs. Everton (Saturday, 9:30 a.m., NBCSN).
– White, Earle and Lee Dixon call Manchester City vs. Arsenal (Sunday, 8 a.m., NBCSN). Telemundo also has the Spanish-language coverage of all four matches. NBC Sports Gold online streaming has the entire 10-game package of the opening weekend.
NHL Network marks the 30th anniversary of Wayne Gretzky’s trade from Edmonton to the Kings tomorrow with a day of new and classic shows. To highlight the schedule above (which is in EDT):
*The ESPN 30 For 30: Kings Ransom is one of the first “30 For 30” projects, done by Peter Berg. It airs at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., with very cool shots of Gretzky returning to the Forum to sit for this one.
*The noon showing of “A Day That Changed the Game: August 9, 1988″ came out on the 20th anniversary in 2008.
NOTEWORTHY SOCIAL MEDIA MENTIONS FROM THE WEEK:
* Sunday’s edition of “E:60” (on ESPN2 and ESPNEWS) focuses on Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and his wife, Julie, the reining U.S. soccer player of the year. Jeremy Schaap has the story about the couple that met while attending Stanford and how their lives in the elite athlete world makes for interesting challenges. Here’s a snippet.