Hello. I have returned from my pit of misery. Well, for the time being. I trust Kevin, Bob and, somehow, Russ, who has taken over the site and podcast like the protagonist in some weird 90s movie who finds himself trapped in the unlikeliest of places overnight and has free run to do whatever he damn well pleases, have treated you well?
I’ve missed so much that I was shocked to see Dwyane Wade on the Heat while watching the Sixers game the other night. I’m not kidding– I thought I had entered a time warp, until I found out he was traded two weeks ago. Apparently there were the Olympics and the Flyers haven’t lost or something.
Anyway, the one thing I have been keeping tabs on has been the LeBron James-Malvern Prep rumors.
While I’m on record as saying that it would make complete sense for James to come to the Sixers next year – I wrote a whole post about it which at the time was called clickbait – the notion that LeBron, or one of his “reps,” walked around Malvern Prep, my alma mater, and somehow went unnoticed is dubious at best.
Here’s a brief timeline of the saga, mostly debunked along the way.
Last Monday, Smitty over at Barstool tweets the following:
Rumor level: 1,000. Barstool bats about 2-for-40 on this stuff and happily trumpets literally anything that sounds good. This feels a lot like the time they ran with the Jay Wright-womens soccer player rumor in a post that, surprise, has quietly been removed.
I saw Smitty’s Tweet and reached out to longtime Malvern teacher and faculty member Chuck Chinici, who has been at the school since 1978 and is the former athletic director. Surely if LeBron James, or his people, or even some dude in a 23 jersey walked through campus, Mr. Chinici would know. Everyone would know, because Malvern is a comically small school community that would be able to paper over one of the most famous athletes on the planet walking around about as well as an upper middle class neighborhood women’s wine night would be able avoid gossiping about Sue’s supposed marital issues and her garish dye-job.
Chinici hadn’t heard anything about it.
26 minutes after his Tweet, Smitty debunked himself, which I suppose falls under the same blogging category as lifting someone else’s design and putting it on four separate shirts:
Rumor level: Confirmed.
So that was it, right?
Over the weekend, Jason Myrtetus, who went to Malvern for a few years, tweeted the following:
Rumor level: 74-75. I actually like Myrtetus, and our public debating about this topic is mostly in good fun (I think). But in my eight years of experience doing this – and by this I mean basically tracking down online rumors every day – I’ve learned that, typically, when the most cited report comes from a sports talk radio host who is not otherwise a content area specialist, it tends to be less than reliable. This is a pattern that has repeated itself time and again. Never mind that the “report” relies on, at best, second-hand information, which may very well have been generated from Smitty’s Tweet five days earlier.
Regardless, now the flames have been fanned and fueled with cheaply refined petro fuel.
Sunday night, Mr. Chinici, who may occasionally go by the alias Magazine Marty, posted the following on Facebook:
On our podcast on Monday, Russ, who heard that it wasn’t recently but actually a few months ago that LeBron or his #peeps visited Malvern, posited to me that, perhaps, the school ran a shelter in place drill for LeBron’s visit so he could roam the halls unnoticed.
Rumor level: Russ. Anyone who actually believes that likely thinks crisis actors are real.
Russ’ theory is an actual impossibility at Malvern considering that there are more than a dozen buildings on campus and a giant courtyard between the major classroom buildings.
Perhaps they papered over all the windows so students couldn’t see LeBron sample the soil with Mr. Stewart and re-live the Battle of Brandywine with Mr. McGuire.
On Monday, a reader whose father is on the board at Malvern – easily confirmed by an eight-second search of the sender – emailed the following:
Listened to the podcast this morning, good stuff and happy you were back on.
I graduated from Malvern in 2012, my Dad is currently on the Board of Directors there, and my brother is a senior.
I can tell you that the board hasn’t heard anything about LeBron, or even one of his reps, visiting campus. The board (which includes a few school admins) met on Thursday and the rumor was brought up – my dad said it was laughed off and wasn’t mentioned again. As you know, nothing is a secret at Malvern and if the rumor were true it would have certainly reached the board.
On Tuesday, Malvern’s HEAD BASKETBALL COACH, who might know a thing or two if he could be tapped to coach the offspring of the greatest basketball player ever, issued the following statement:
Some people will undoubtedly suspect this is all just part of the #coverup.
And then we come to Sixers color commentator Alaa Abdelnaby, who dropped his hat into the reporting ring on Philly Sports Talk on Tuesday:
“I’ve told this to a few other people, and I have no problem saying this, my brother lives in the Philadelphia area and he told me that LeBron, last week through a superintendent, was in the area checking out some private schools during the All-Star break,” Abdelnaby said.
Rumor level: What the hell? So Alaa is citing his brother, who it would appear, if we parse the poor phrasing, is citing a superintendent. How many degrees of Kevin Bacon is that? Here’s the thing, private schools don’t have superintendents. They don’t have one person who oversees a number of schools like public schools do. They have individual headmasters. Sure, maybe Alaa mixed up his words, but his report sounds like a beautiful mashing of the existing rumors.
Just in case, let’s ask LeBron where he was:
LeBron James said he did not go to any high schools in Pennsylvania during the All-Star Break: pic.twitter.com/SczB3KYS3Q
— Jessica Camerato (@JCameratoNBCS) March 1, 2018
But that response won’t do anything to quell rumors, since obviously LeBron would never visit a school himself and run the risk of being captured by countless students carrying smartphones armed with Instagram and Snapchat. Or would he? Here he is visiting schools in LA in the fall, captured on Snapchat by Teddy Parham, whom I’m guessing is a pimple-faced high school student geeking TF out while taking this picture:
LeBron clarified that visit by saying that he was simply there to work out, which of course may or may not be believed depending on your rooting interest.
The obvious response to all these denials has been people claiming that Malvern and LeBron wouldn’t actually admit to this. OK, fine. Malvern doesn’t want to torpedo chances that LeBron’s kid attends, and LeBron is still a member of the Cavs so he can’t say anything otherwise. Got it.
Unfortunately, that logic breaks down when you consider this Instagram post from Malvern, apparently photoshopping the LeBron-to-Philly billboards to seize this unprecedented wave of free publicity:
So Malvern has to deny the LeBron rumors but at the same time they’re also totally embracing it. Care to explain that one? Oh, there’s a conspiracy for that, too?
I hate people.
What we have here is the classic evolution of a rumor. It started online with a loosely-sourced Tweet that itself was denied by the guy who reported it. But the cat was out of the bag. It quickly found its way to a sports talk radio host who has two layers of separation from the supposed source. It then found its way onto the airwaves by way of a color commentator who repeated another version of the same story, one which is quickly debunked (LeBron was not in Philly).
Every step of the way, every version of events, is quickly shot down. The initial report was wrong. The school denies it. Russ’ hackneyed lockdown drill is implausible. LeBron wasn’t in Philly over the break. Lane Johnson can’t lay off the juice. You get it. IT’S ALL THE VERSIONS! ALL THE VERSIONS!
Imagined scenarios are used to fill the void of actual information. Actually it was in November. Just his reps. Lockdown drill. And that’s the thing, despite the countless denials, you can’t prove a negative. It’s very much like a conspiracy in that regard. Once confronted with actual information, the story changes in order to survive. Like slicing a worm in half, or trying to get a One Direction song out of your head– just when you think you’ve succeeded, something else, similar but different, takes its place.
People are killing me on social media for downplaying this, accusing me of not wanting LeBron or outright jealousy because a guy who went to but didn’t graduate from Malvern got the scoop:
Simply untrue. For one, I actually think there is a reasonable chance that LeBron would come to the Sixers. I’d offer up my left testicle to scientific research for it to happen. All in. Sign me up. Process complete. And I’d love for his son to attend the finest high school, with the best sports programs, in the Philly area. Even now. I will happily be wrong on this one and break bread with that little prodigy over a spit-roasted pig at Homecoming. It’s even possible that LeBron has indeed looked into schools in the Philly area. I just think that this rumor, as told and evolved, is, well, bullshit.
While this is just my own theory and I can’t prove that the story isn’t true for the reasons we already discussed, here’s what I think happened. I bet someone saw Chinici walking around with Nesmith, a tall city official and former basketball player, told a friend about it while wondering aloud who it could be, and that person fused it with the images of LeBron at a private school in LA, and, boom, a rumor is born. That’s how the whisper-down-the-lane quality of these things tend to go. Even if everyone supposedly involved laughs it off, that doesn’t put the genie back in the bottle– rather, it just further perpetuates the rumor, adding multiple layers of insanity until the thing becomes so implausible that it’s hardly recognizable.
LeBron may come to the Sixers next year. He may look at schools. But I highly doubt he, or any of his reps, were ever at Malvern Prep, as much as I’d like for that to be the case.