Joseph Goodman: LeBron James pregame dunk drama just another scene for Miami Heat

03/01/2013 12:01 AM

09/23/2013 6:52 PM

The Heat has won 12 games in a row, plays an exciting opponent at AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday, Dwyane Wade is averaging 32 points in his last three games, LeBron James will soon be named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for the fourth time this season and

All anyone wanted to talk about after practice on Thursday was the critical blowback that James’ pregame dunk routine has received. As coach Erik Spoelstra likes to say, welcome to the Miami Heat’s “theater of the absurd.”

At Absurd Theater, where admission is always free of charge, reporters muscle for position around Heat players and shout over one another to ask questions like, and I’m paraphrasing here, “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could Chuck Barkley?”

In other words, utter nonsense.

But in all seriousness, here’s a word-for-word example of a question posed to Chris Bosh about James: “A lot is being made out of nothing with LeBron maybe doing some kind of trick shots as far as warm-ups. Do you think people just want to scrutinize him even more now?”

OK, before your head explodes from a sudden overload of stupidity, let’s stop and analyze this question in the hopes of deconstructing how a non-story, manufactured out of thin air, becomes an Internet headline and then makes the rounds on ESPN as a “serious news story” worthy of critical debate. Consider it a service to readers on how Absurd Theater finds a workable script.

In reality, no one is scrutinizing James save a few agitators on Twitter. In the parlance of our times, we call them “trolls.”

That’s right. On Thursday, an entire news cycle of stories on the Heat was produced, written and edited based upon the grammatically deficient ravings of Internet trolls.

Over the weekend, James apparently received a few messages on his Twitter account telling him to stop dunking before games because he will not compete in the NBA’s dunk contest during the All-Star break. After Tuesday’s victory against the Kings, James made an off-handed remark that he might stop the pre-game routines because “it’s making a lot of people mad about what I do.”

Never mind that “a lot of people” were actually only a few Twitter trolls and James wasn’t being serious, here’s the headline that ran on ESPN.com after the game: “Pregame dunk routine might stop.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you create news out of smoke and mirrors and win a leading role in Absurd Theater.

From there, the story took on a life of its own, mutated into a radioactive smoke monster from Internet-land, produced babies and, ultimately, created a schism in the space-time continuum we call reality.

Let me repeat, no journalist of any worth is being critical of James’ pre-game dunks. It is all make-believe made to make you believe you must click that headline or flip on the television and listen to people scream at one another.

So, on Thursday, the smoke monster and its offspring blew through Heat practice like a noxious vortex from hell. And there was panic in the disco: Is LeBron James going to stop dunking before games because of all these critics!?! Every local TV and radio station in South Florida had their cameras on and microphones up. Every local newspaper was taking notes. Nationally, ESPN and Yahoo! Sports were represented.

The house lights were blinking. After a long break, intermission for Absurd Theater was over.

“Do you have any concern with your players dunking before the game,” one reporter asked.

Naturally, Spoelstra was annoyed.

“I’m not even going to feed into that,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the theater of the absurd. I mean, really, guys warming up and dunking? Can’t we come up with a better storyline than that?

“So now guys can’t have shooting contests that are shooters. OK. So, we don’t want them to warm up. I like seeing our guys in a lather. I don’t like participating in the theater of the absurd.”

Oh, but the show must go on, coach. ESPN.com’s post-practice headline: “LeBron James shrugs off criticism, decides to stick with pregame dunking.”

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