Once Rick Reilly's multi-million dollar contract with ESPN expires next year, it may go down as one of the worst contracts in the history of sports media. Maybe not on the Jerome James or Eddy Curry level of bad contracts, more like Barry Zito or Carl Crawford. Reilly was once one of the most talented and acclaimed sportswriters in the industry (it's not like ESPN handed over a wad of cash to an unkown entity back in 2007 when they lured him away from Sports Illustrated), but that history of past success just never made the transition to a new place. At ESPN, Reilly has been relegated to floating around online and television platforms, never really making the impact he did on SI's back page.
The hallmarks of Reilly's ESPN tenure? Columns that are widely panned, television essays that paint him as the annoying uncle that won't go away, a temporary stay at ESPN The Magazine's back page, a few largely forgettable television specials, and the occasional slip-up or bizarre statement that gets the internet in a collective tizzy. The following Rick Reilly moment at ESPN falls into that last category.
In a recent column scolding us for not loving LeBron James, Reilly included a paragraph conceding a few of James' imperfections to his critics. This wasn't anything truly noteworthy, but small things like throwing cups, fashion choices, or punching walking sticks.
Punching a walking stick? LeBron James did that? It's not like LeBron James punching someone's walking stick is widely talked about in LeBron James mythology like his mysterious sixth toe or anything involving Delonte West.
Where would multi-million dollar sportswriter Rick Reilly get such a thing? It appears that he lifted what he perceived to be an actual story from a satirical column on the popular basketball site The Basketball Jones. Trey Kirby of TBJ explains what looks to have happened in a column earlier this week...
"One of those jokes came from our own J.E. Skeets, who penned a delightfully Onion-y piece titled “LeBron James punches Juwan Howard’s walking cane, leaves arena with arm in sling.” Laughs were had, links were tweeted and then we all moved on to the next laugh, which was probably a Chris Bosh face.
Until today, when that very same Skeets joke ended up in a Rick Reilly piece for ESPN where the scribe is defending LeBron James. Check it out.
OK, he’s not perfect. Threw a Gatorade cup. Punched a walking stick. Carries that stupid little man purse. But if you were to fill a plane with the most spoiled superstars in the country, he’d be boarding in the D group.
Unless Rick Reilly knows something that we don’t know, it looks like Rick Reilly is a little confused. Also confused? Me, while trying to figure out why someone would think that LeBron James would actually punch a walking stick."
Of course, it could be that Rick Reilly is really in on the joke this time, but that would also mean Rick Reilly is on top of a fresh brand of satire and humor. That doesn't seem to be quite as believable as Rick Reilly believing LeBron James punched Juwan Howard's cane.