LeBron James: Rebuilding the King

I’ve been among the minority who’ve defended LeBron James’ decision — assuming it was his — to go on ESPN for a one-hour special to announce he’d no longer play for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

My logic is this: LeBron couldn’t just sign a contract with the Miami Heat and let it splash the media without his comment. At the very least, he needed a press conference, but that may have come off as insincere. The one-hour special was loaded with good intentions, the kind the road to hell is made of. The result was a gruesome train wreck, for sure, but I at least get where LeBron was coming from. You probably do. You didn’t like the charade, but you could see this was a difficult decision and he was brave for making it.

The City of Cleveland has endured its share of sports-related heartbreak in the past. That’s not LeBron’s fault. He wasn’t there when Art Modell packed up the Browns and moved them to Baltimore. He wasn’t there for Earnest Byner’s goal line fumble in the ’88 AFC Championship game. He wasn’t guarding Michael Jordan in the ’89 NBA Playoffs. Cleveland has no right to push past frustrations upon LeBron leaving. Frankly, they were lucky to receive his seven years of service.

I think the most interesting question now is how can LeBron James rebuild his image as a team player?

First, avoid public appearances like these:

LeBron’s made his share of commercial appearances in the past, most of which had some type of humorous bend. While it worked at the time, The King is now 25 years old, seven seasons into his career with no rings to show for it. Many look at his move to Miami, where he’s joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as taking a shortcut to a championship. No one questions LeBron’s work ethic, but joining a super team such as the Heat weakens the comparisons to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, who spent their whole career with one team.

Team LeBron needs to go back to the fundamentals on why he’s such a superstar. It starts with his offseason work ethic. LeBron’s offseason workout regimen is the stuff of legends. That should be good for a few commercials.

Then, go back to LeBron’s childhood when he was showing off his prodigious skills before scouts as early as 12 and 13. Pull clips of young LeBron, humble and composed, talking about his future in basketball.

Finally, use all of that highlight footage of LeBron making the extra pass to get his teammates involved. He is, bar none, the best passer in the league — not a common thread among players regarded as “selfish.”

His marketing team should focus on three keywords: Work. Win. We.

It may take some time to win back the Cleveland fans, but there are plenty of fans who would rather ditch the Cavaliers to follow the King than go out and buy a new Antawn Jamison jersey. To make the fans fall back in love with LeBron, tap into the things that made him great in the first place; his work ethic, his dedication to winning, his history as a team player.

The one-hour special is done. Let Cavs owner Dan Gilbert galavant all he wants while his team prepares for a 30-52 season. The King will be rebuilt. He’s too good not to remain one of the most respected players in the game.

Is LeBron’s Image Tarnished?

Cavaliers Magic Basketball

I really want to give LeBron James a free pass or at least the benefit of the doubt. After his Cavaliers submitted to the Magic Saturday night, James basically made a b-line for the locker room and left Amway Arena without speaking to reporters. More notable, he left the court without congratulating any of the Magic players on their win.

I know shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with your opponent after a game is pee-wee, but few professional athletes have been more image-savvy than James and passing on such a simple gesture of sportsmanship might be the first real crack we’ve seen in King James’ armor since his rise to the NBA’s elite.

When James finally spoke to reporters on Sunday, his justification for not congratulating the Magic seemed — at least in my opinion — rather bitter. James said:

It’s hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them. I’m a winner. It’s not being a poor sport or anything like that. If somebody beats you up, you’re not going to congratulate them. … I’m a competitor. That’s what I do. It doesn’t make sense for me to go over and shake somebody’s hand.

Kind of disappointing and surprising to hear from someone perceived as an all-around guy. It’s like hearing your 2nd grade teacher swear or seeing your pastor at the bar. As an Orlando Magic fan and LeBron James fan, I told myself I could be happy with either team winning the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, I’m doubly glad Orlando won considering James’ reaction to losing, which seems to expose in him some sense of entitlement.

Sure, the Cavs had the best record in the NBA. Sure, he was named the MVP. But no other league sees its teams — I repeat, teams, not individuals — step their game up more in the playoffs than the NBA. It just so happens James led a good team that seemed complacent based on its regular-season performance. They were steamrolled by a Magic team that just continued to get better as the playoffs rolled on.

It would probably be in James’ best interests to fade into the background and avoid any Alex Rodriguez-like interruptions of the NBA Finals. It’s going to be one hell of a series and the last thing the game needs is James playing the role of whiny superstar.