When LeBron James returned home on Friday for his kingly reception in Akron, Ohio, at least one sports commentator remained silent.
Miami sports broadcaster Dan Le Batard, who hosts nationally syndicated shows on ESPN and ESPN Radio, didn't get an invite to the party.
That's because Le Batard recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to purchase a full-page advertisement in an Ohio newspaper that would feature two NBA Championship rings and the message "You're welcome, LeBron. Love, Miami."
Le Batard said newspapers in Akron and Cleveland declined to run his ad, even though he says he never actually tried to place it, just inquired about prices. "They have declined our money," Le Batard said on his afternoon radio show. "They do not want our money that we did not offer. They will not allow us to put our ad in the paper. An ad we did not offer them, by the way."
Instead, the same message appeared Wednesday on a billboard over Tallmadge Street in James' hometown of Akron. Five more billboards appeared in the surrounding area, all with the tagline: "This ad is paid for by Gonzalo 'Papi' Le Batard and Stugotz."
Le Batard's employer didn't see the humor in the gag. On Thursday, ESPN released a statement reading, “Dan Le Batard will be off the air for two days, returning Monday. His recent stunt does not reflect ESPN’s standards and brand. Additionally, we were not made aware of his plans in advance.”
Most assumed the billboard ad was a poke at the outgoing King James, who was unable to win an NBA Championship for Cleveland, but then won two rings after joining fellow All Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. James was an unrestricted free agent this summer and opted to return to Cleveland, irking some Miami Heat fans.
Le Batard says his trolling is harmless and "all meant in fun."
"It's just fun anarchy," Le Batard said on his radio show. "I've got nothing but good things to say about [James]. How could you say anything bad about him?"
Le Batard, in typical self-effacing fashion, acknowledged the entire situation was a "shameless stunt," but that didn't help stem the tide of vitriolic tweets sent his way.
Never underestimate @LeBatardShow 's ability to shamelessly promote himself. Truly an example of media being the story.— Mitsubishi Miller (@ServantOnIce) August 7, 2014
@LeBatardShow is basically now a stalker ex-girlfriend— Ibby (@ibby_h92) August 7, 2014
Le Batard responded to angry Ohioan tweets with photos of messages from Cleveland fans following LeBron's departure in 2010.
The billboard contains a less obvious jab in the text, written in hilariously unprofessional Comic Sans font, mocking the fuming letter Cavalier's owner Dan Gilbert authored in 2010 when his star player took his talents to South Beach.
Le Batard did not say how much the billboard campaign cost, and CBS Outdoor does not publish a national rate card. A comparative quote from a rival billboard company suggests the campaign would amount to between $13,300 and $23,625 for a four-week run.
Ironically, after refusing to place the paid ad, The Akron Beacon Journal then featured a photo of the billboard on its front page.
So in the end, Le Batard got his point across. It just cost him a bit more than he expected — and none of it went to Akron Beacon Journal.