Somehow I find it hard to believe that LeBron James needed a "decision engine" to make The Decision.
Nonetheless, Microsoft's Bing has graciously offered its sponsorship of what is easily the most ridiculous combination of hype and entertainment since Geraldo Rivera found two liquor bottles in a downtown Chicago hotel: the one-hour prime-time television spectacle that is scheduled to air Thursday evening on ESPN chronicling "The Decision," when James will announce which National Basketball Association team he'll allow to pay him hundreds of millions of dollars over the next several years. Bing is also featured prominently on lebronjames.com as the official search engine of James' Internet outpost.
Is this a good idea for Microsoft? Certainly, Bing will be plastered in front of millions of sports fans and those merely curious about the spectacle surrounding James' free-agency plans. And Microsoft has been involved with James' camp for several years, according to a blog post on the matter, so it's not like they are suddenly jumping on the self-proclaimed King James bandwagon.
But there's a growing backlash in sports and media circles against the pompous way in which James has chosen to present this announcement, as if the fate of basketball is hanging on edge awaiting His Decision.
That certainly extends to ESPN, which bent over backward to get this exclusive, allowing James to reserve one hour of ESPN's prime-time schedule to make this announcement, select his own interviewer, and even demand the right to sell the sponsorship rights to the program to companies of his camp's choosing. (To be fair, proceeds from these sponsors are going to charity, benefiting Boys & Girls Clubs of America.)
Still, the program is essentially a one-hour infomercial for LeBron James Inc. to promote himself and his chosen business partners, which apparently includes Microsoft. That is not sitting well with many veteran basketball fans who may be very likely to see Microsoft (and James' other sponsors) as willing participants in turning the NBA into something more like pro wrestling.
Microsoft has done well with its marketing of Bing over the past year or so, creating several humorous and memorable commercials and backing them up with market share gains. But in participating in the sham that is The Decision, Microsoft is hitching its wagon to a sports personality who has done more to alienate sports fans than Barry Bonds.
Then again, maybe everyone's just in it for the show.