Excuse me, but did the entire country go from zero to stupid on one night last week?

That would have been Thursday, July 8, 2010, the day that ESPN honchos thought it was appropriate to devote an entire hour to a program so LeBron James could tell the country where he'll be playing for the 2010-2011 National Basketball Association season.

According to some news reports, 8 eight million people thought James' decision was so monumental, so earth-shattering, that they had to tune in to watch. This was the same day that a jury in Los Angeles found Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Oscar Grant III in January of 2009.

Mehserle is a former (San Francisco) Bay Area Rapid Transit cop. Grant was a 22-year-old man Mehserle and other BART officers were trying to subdue after a fight at a stop in Oakland. With Grant lying prone on the ground, Mehserle fired one fatal shot from his service handgun into Grant's back. That touched off several days of rioting last year. The fact that Mehserle is white and Grant was black eased tensions not one iota.

Mehserle's defense was that he thought his service weapon was his Taser device. How Mehserle made that goof is not the focus of this column, but the jury obviously bought his story and went with the least serious charge he faced.

The others were second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. That decision set off more rioting in Oakland. (The jury was moved to Los Angeles after Mehserle's attorney asked for a change of venue.)

So a riot occurred in a large American city after a verdict about a police shooting that said all kinds of things about race, class and police relations with America's black population, and the major news story of the day was where James would play basketball?

I'm sure this will burst LeBron's bubble, but he simply ain't that important. And he ain't that good a ballplayer either.

Hey, this is no non-sports fan griping here. I'm as passionate a sports fan as the next, so much so, in fact, that I advocated that members of the American basketball team that brought home only a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics be stripped of their citizenship.

"You're kidding about that, right?" people would ask me when I said this.

"No," I answered.

I confess to not being the NBA fan I once was. From the 1979-1980 season through the 1997-1998 season, I never missed an NBA Finals series on television. But back then I watched NBA action for only three reasons, and all of them have retired.

Yes, that would be Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. And LeBron James simply isn't in their class. This guy's been overhyped and overrated since he was in high school, when editors at Sports Illustrated, always heavy on the hyperbole, dubbed James "the chosen one" and did a cover story on him.

Truly great players make their teams better; James isn't there yet. Johnson and Bird got there immediately. The Los Angeles Lakers were 47-35 the year before Magic arrived and lost in the playoffs. In his rookie season, they went 60-22 and won the NBA title, with Johnson playing five different positions in the decisive sixth game of the finals.

The season before Bird arrived in Boston, the Celtics were 29-53. In his rookie season, the Celtics surged to a 61-21 record and made the playoffs. Never did Magic or Bird get the hype James has gotten.

And if Magic and Bird didn't deserve it, James sure as heck doesn't.

Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.