School turns off ESPN deal for James

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - LeBron James will be getting a little less TV exposure.
St. Vincent-St. Mary High School officials have decided not to sign a contract with ESPN to have James' final regular-season game televised this Sunday.
"We have been getting some bad press from ESPN and from other media sources," athletic director Grant Innocenzi said Wednesday. "We're at the point that enough is enough. It's that simple."
Innocenzi said the school's board of trustees voted on Tuesday not to have James' game in Dayton against Kettering Alter shown on ESPN2.
The network had already nationally broadcast two of the school's games this season.
A Dec. 12 game against Oak Hill Academy -- with Dick Vitale and Bill Walton as announcers -- earned the second-highest rating ever for ESPN2, drawing more than 1.5 million viewers.
The school has been accused of exploiting James' celebrity for profit, a charge headmaster David Rathz vehemently denies.
"The rumors were out there we got huge amounts of money from ESPN," Rathz said. "We didn't get a penny. Those games are all done by promoters. If the promoters made a deal with ESPN, we were not part of it. We didn't make a penny off that."
Spokesman Josh Krulewitz said ESPN did not pay rights fees to the school for the early broadcasts. He added that the network has been responsible in its coverage of James, the nation's top high school basketball player.
"We have reported fairly and appropriately on our stories about LeBron James," he said.
Krulewitz said ESPN explored the possibility of carrying
Sunday's game with Paragon, a Chicago-based marketing company, acting as liaison between the school and the network.
"The school informed Paragon that it didn't want to do the
game," Krulewitz said, "and we're fine with the decision."
Paragon spokesman Rashid Gahzi said the school did not offer a reason for declining to finalize a contract.
James' home games have been available on pay-per-view in
northeast Ohio this season. His game last weekend in Trenton, N.J., was shown on the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network.
St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dru Joyce said he's not concerned that his team, ranked No. 1 by USA Today, will not be getting more air time this weekend.
"That's the school's prerogative," Joyce said. "We're not
playing for the cameras anyway."
Sunday's game will be the final one of the regular season for the 18-year-old James, who is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NBA draft.
The 6-foot-8 senior (pictured, above) has to sit out a Feb. 23 game against Toledo Scott as part of a two-game suspension ordered last week by Summit County Judge James Williams.
Williams issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the Ohio High School Athletic Association's decision that James was ineligible for accepting two sports jerseys for free from a Cleveland clothing store.
The judge will hold another hearing on Feb. 19 when he will
decide whether to grant a permanent injunction or uphold the OHSAA's decision.
James, who said he got the "throwback" jerseys valued at $845 from a friend for making his school's honor roll, is expected to testify at the hearing.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)