(Publisher’s note: Hoffarth confirmed to me that he verified Gray’s compensation for the LeBron “Decision” ESPN show via his own source before reporting the story. ESPN has also re-confirmed to me that it only paid Gray’s travel expenses.)
On July 9 I reported the financial details of the LeBron James ‘Decision’ production that was aired on ESPN and billed as a charity benefit.
After the show aired, Dawn C. Chmielewski of the LOS ANGELES TIMES reported of the production’s financial haul:
ESPN agreed to donate the time, sponsors committed about $3 million — which Nike has pledged to match. Proceeds go to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
CNBC’s Darren Rovell also followed up the show with a report of his own:
As part of the partnership, ESPN turned over some of the advertising inventory in the show to James’ team to sell commercials to the likes of the University of Phoenix, Bing and Vitaminwater. James’ team said it would donate $2.5 million from the proceeds of the ads to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
So at the very least, we had a $500,000 discrepancy in the amount of money that sponsors pledged to charity and what the “James team” said would be donated.
So where did that $500,000 go?
Well-respected, longtime sports media reporter Tom Hoffarth of the L.A. DAILY NEWS recently reported:
In one smelled swoop, “The Decision” solidified the jack-wagon status of Jim Gray (who reportedly made $500,000 for the ringmaster appearance), planted seeds of doubt in anything ESPN subsequently reported, laid the groundwork for some of the most obscenely overblown coverage in league history, inspired a self-serving Nike commercial and, in the words of ESPN ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer, became “a metaphor for what ails the media today.”
That couldn’t possibly be the $500,000 that didn’t go to charity, right?
After Rovell’s July 9 report that James’ team had paid Gray for his appearance, Gray released this terse statement:
“I did not take one penny from LeBron James or LRMR. ESPN paid for travel and my own expenses. I received a small stipend and the rest went for charity.”
Three days later, Rovell reported:
(It was originally reported by CNBC and later by Bloomberg that Jim Gray would be reimbursed for his expenses and receive an additional payment for his work on ESPN’s LeBron James special last Thursday night. Now, CNBC is being told by its primary source and by Gray that the two payments are one and the same and he is only being compensated for his expenses).
Translation: ESPN said it only paid for Gray’s travel and Gray indicated that he was paid “a small stipend” by an entity not affiliated with James or James’ marketing company. (See “team”.)
If the stipend was indeed “small” then I’m sure Gray will soon refute Hoffarth’s report - which was published three weeks ago and noted by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s Richard Deitsch on Wednesday.