In the NBA, images can be fickle beasts. LeBron James has done wonders to push himself back into a positive light following the fallout surrounding "The Decision," but one slip-up could send yet another round of vitriol in his general direction.
The public might perceive a superstar positively, but that can change at a moment's notice. Don't believe me? Just ask Dwight Howard.
At the moment, LeBron is everything that you could want in an NBA superstar. He's a dominant player, but he is also growing increasingly likable as he continues to say the right things, act the right way and endear himself to the average basketball fan.
It might seem like a simple action, but hugging/tackling/mauling a fan at halfcourt after a successfully half-court attempt goes a long way in the court of public opinion.
Who else throws a ball back to someone in the stands and asks for a more forceful pass?
By the looks of it, LeBron is set to both dominate the league for the foreseeable future and remain a likable figure while doing so.
However, that could change in an instant if one of the following hypothetical moments becomes a reality.
Another Bad Quote
While this quote may have been taken out of context a bit too often, thus distorting the intent behind the statement, it still created a media firestorm.
"Ugh, LeBron is such a [insult inflammatory noun and explicit word of your choice here]" is surely something you heard uttered on a regular basis during the days after the Dallas Mavericks knocked out the Miami Heat.
How about after he muttered "retarded" under his breath, referring to a reporter asking Dwyane Wade a question he didn't agree with?
There's no doubt that LeBron has said some unfortunate things in the past. He's not the only superstar to have done so, of course, but he hasn't yet reached the Kobe Bryant level where there are so many years of experience under the belt that you can get away with saying just about anything.
While the Association's reigning MVP has been much better about controlling what he lets slip during the 2012-13 season, one misstep could ruin all the work he's done.
LeBron is the focus of so much attention that even the slightest unfortunate quote would have a rather significant fallout. Of course, the media would blow it even further out of proportion, giving ammo to the haters.
Getting Erik Spoelstra Fired
Every time there's a significant disagreement between a player and a coach, it's honed in on by NBA fans. Miami Heat fans are all too familiar with this phenomenon after Erik Spoelstra and Dwyane Wade got into it while losing a pair of games to the Indiana Pacers in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
As much as that was discussed, just imagine if LeBron was involved.
We've gotten a taste of this already. Remember when LeBron bumped into his head coach and nobody wanted to talk about anything but whether or not the contact was intentional?
You'd have to magnify that tenfold if Spoelstra was fired with LeBron involved in some way.
If LeBron and Spo started to butt heads, the Heat would need to resolve the situation somehow. You're kidding yourself if you think they'd side with the head coach over the best player in the world, especially while said player is in the middle of his prime.
Whenever a player-coach feud leads to a termination, people take sides. And those sides are always different. For example, the Deron Williams-Avery Johnson split didn't vilify D-Will, but the Dwight Howard-Stan Van Gundy drama led to a drop in the overall perception of D12.
If LeBron James is involved in a breakup, well, you can be sure who a large contingent of NBA fans is going to side with.
Joining the Los Angeles Lakers
In the eyes of many basketball lovers, nothing could be worse for LeBron's image than joining forces with the Los Angeles Lakers.
There's a rather large population of Laker haters out there. And I'm merely confirming the existence of that group, not supporting unabashed hatred of any team. If LeBron put on a purple-and-gold jersey, that contingent would immediately start to root against them, even if they were previously supporters of the reigning MVP.
However, it's much more than that.
Leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers was bad enough for many people, even though his reasons for going were quite understandable. Hometown loyalties aside, LeBron simply wasn't surrounded by talent conducive to winning championships, so he put himself in a better situation.
Well, the same argument can't be made concerning the Heat. He's already won a championship, and Miami isn't exactly lacking in the talent department.
If he depleted that department by taking his across the country to the opposite coast, it would be nearly inexcusable.
A Postseason No-Show
This is hypothetical, though, it could happen in the immediate future.
If you thought the fallout was bad after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, just imagine how bad it would be if LeBron and the Miami Heat are knocked out of the playoffs even earlier in the attempt to defend their title.
Let's say that Miami ends up playing the Milwaukee Bucks or Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2013 postseason. Now, let's pretend that LeBron fails to live up to the moment, puts up stinker after stinker and watches the rest of the playoffs from the comfort of his own couch.
That would not go over well in NBA circles. Part of LeBron's image right now is his status as a winner. More often than not, he's been coming up big in key situations.
A failure to perform when it matters most, directly before another offseason of speculation, would be one of the worst things he could do.