ESPN Plays Court Jester to King James

Last night at 1:30 a.m Eastern Time, ESPN published a story by reporter Arash Markazi about a night LeBron James spent out in the nightclub Tao in Las Vegas. It was a great read! By this morning, the story had been removed. 

A spokeswoman for ESPN said that the story was published by accident. “The story should have never been published,” she wrote in an email to the Media Mob. “The draft was inadvertently put on the server before going through the usual editorial process. We are in the midst of looking into the matter.”

Deadspin obtained an image of the published story. There is nothing here that seems to suggest that it went without an edit:

Five security guards are stationed around him, one at each corner of the table he’s about to sit at and another roving around with him, watching his every move. Anyone who takes two steps toward James is stopped and must have James’ approval to come closer. The waiter bringing him his cup of green tea with a spoonful of honey and a dash of lemon juice makes the cut, as does the scantily clad brunette with a tattoo of a heart on her right shoulder.

We asked a spokeswoman for ESPN if there was any policy against taking stories off the web. “This was just a rare case  — it was an error,” she said. “As far as policy, this is irrelevant to that.”

“They realized it was published accidentally, and they took it down for that reason alone,” she added.

Hmmm! Earlier this month, when LeBron James was announcing which team he would play for next, ESPN ceded control of primetime space on the network to Mr. James, in exchange for an exclusive. ESPN allowed Mr. James to control the location of the interview and which reporter would interview him, while his marketing team, LRMR Marketing, selected advertisers for the special. CNBC’s Darren Rovell talked to Mr. James’ business team today, and they (like ESPN) claimed they had nothing to do with spiking the story.

Unless’s editors can show evidence that there are errors in the piece, this was a terrible mistake. Their motives, to say the least, are suspect. We’ll be curious to see what ESPN’s published version looks like if it’s ever actually published again.

Later: [ESPN Explains Why it Pulled the Story About Lebron’s Night Out]

ESPN Plays Court Jester to King James