Team USA Basketball 2012: Olympics Participation Is Reviving LeBron James' Image
With the Team USA men's basketball team the overwhelming favorite in the London Summer Olympics and LeBron James the unquestioned alpha dog of the roster, we could be in the midst of a reputation resurrection that few thought possible.
In 2010, LeBron James' ill-fated "Decision" rebranded the world's best basketball player as a bastion of everything wrong with "today's" player.
Instead of sticking with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the hometown team that drafted him No. 1 overall, James chose the aesthetics of South Beach.
Instead of informing the Cavaliers of his decision via face-to-face meeting, James let Cleveland brass know just minutes before a nationally televised special.
Instead of trying to systematically destroy Dwyane Wade, the world's second-best player, "like Michael Jordan would've done," James took a championship shortcut and joined Wade with the Miami Heat.
That fateful July 8 night changed the NBA power structure and seemingly destroyed LeBron's reputation forever.
These Summer Olympics could culminate his two-year image rebuilding process.
James spent much of that first season in Miami stoic. Gone was the man who once did silly dances with teammates in pregame warmups and smiled at the camera every chance he got.
In his place was a soulless shell trying to live up to his villainous role while wanting so desperately to be adored again.
As boos rained down from every inch of every non-Miami arena, it seemed that the hatred for LeBron had eclipsed your everyday sports hate. Fans hated LeBron James the person so much that they would have rather seen him lose than their team win.
And when James' Heat lost in the NBA Finals, the world basked in the arrogant star's karmic comeuppance.
But that loss also re-opened the basketball world's proverbial heart to James.
And when LeBron came back equipped with a brand-new post game, a commitment to offensive efficiency and an unforeseen will for retribution, basketball fans were allowed to enjoy watching James play basketball again.
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LeBron won his third MVP in four years in a landslide vote. He led his Miami Heat through the playoffs despite multiple series deficits and injuries to Wade and Chris Bosh. And on the biggest of NBA stages, James put together five virtuoso performances, winning his first NBA championship and ending all doubts about his "clutch performance."
As King James sat at the post-game podium, Larry O'Brien Trophy on one side and MVP trophy on the other, it became clear that at least some of the basketball world was ready to forgive.
And now as we sit here, every American basketball fan is also a LeBron James fan. He is by far Team USA's best player, and the team has its best shot at winning with the ball in James' hands.
Not even the most diabolical James hater would choose schadenfreude over country.
Only one question remains: With the world watching, can James finally revive his legacy?
There will not be the blood of the Cleveland Cavaliers on James' jersey in London, just the colors of his country. No criticism of taking a shortcut, as Team USA is supposed to be a superteam. No boos raining down from every fan, just basketball appreciators watching in awe.
These London games will simply be James' chance to atone for his mistake. To complete his retribution. To win for his country.
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