The Cleveland fans waited with hushed expectations, ready to burst out in joy as their hero announced that he would be returning to bring glory to their city. He couldn't possibly announce a one-hour television decision special on ESPN only to snub the city that was basically his hometown. Could he?
When LeBron James proclaimed he would be "bringing his talents to South Beach" live on the ESPN special, he reached a new level of narcissism that is unfortunately all too common in the world of professional sports. Self-absorption, enormous contracts, and even delusional behaviour is nothing new in sports, so it shouldn't have been unexpected that James would seek this level of publicity with his signing.
Nonetheless, it was disappointing.
As a player that some were touting as the heir to the Michael Jordan throne; James seemed to take the easy way out on building a legacy for himself. Instead of sticking with his own team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, he joined Dwyane Wade's Miami Heat. This in effect makes him a complimentary player to Wade, rather than the leader of his own team.
Also, with Wade bringing Chris Bosh and James to Miami, he succeeded where the others failed. He was able to improve his team, while maintaining loyalty to his chosen franchise, while James and Bosh abandoned their former teams for greener pastures.
Some would argue on the positive side that he took less money to play in Miami, but with that you have to consider that there is no income tax in Florida. LeBron also accumulates the obvious increased marketing and sponsorship benefits of the bigger market, automatically earning more in the move.
James, of course, isn’t the only one who has jumped on these increased opportunities. Bosh made the best of the chances he had in Toronto, but it is apparent that he is enjoying the increased celebrity that is afforded to sports stars in the United States.
From ringing the opening bell at the stock exchange to appearing on a wide variety of talk shows, Bosh has increased his visibility as a sports celebrity in enormous amounts.
Of course, in terms of overall sins, James and Bosh haven’t really done anything wrong.
Their main fault in all of this was some ill-advised marketing moves that caused their popularity to plummet.
James was interviewed in the September issue of GQ by J.R. Moehringer, and it is apparent that James’ main problem is his isolation as a person from public perception.
This is Moehringer on the biggest story now heading into the NBA season.
"I think it's LeBron being booed wherever he goes. This is not just a Cleveland problem. This is a guy who had a Tiger Woods-esque fall from grace, even though he didn't really commit any sins—cardinal or venal or otherwise. His sin was that he made a marketing gaffe. He presented himself in an unflattering light. That's not much of a sin on the scale of public sins. And yet he's become a villain. I don't think we've had anything like this in sports history. We haven't had a beloved sports icon become a villain for something so aesthetic. He's despised, absolutely despised, because of a TV special. He didn't cheat on his wife, he didn't drive drunk, he didn't take drugs, he didn't test positive for PEDs, and almost overnight he went from being a loved guy to being hated. That day-in-day-out condemnation is the story.”
The way in which James handled things suggests a narcissism that is commonly found in celebrity culture and is often due in part to being surrounded by handlers. So many, in fact, that they have no real way of connecting with people who do not have their lives invested in them.
This causes a problem when that person becomes self-absorbed to the point that they don’t realize how their actions affect other people, and will go to great lengths to describe why each decision and action is important for them.
James demonstrates this quite well in both the decision special and in his interview with GQ, when he references himself in the third person.
“Maybe the ones burning my jersey were never LeBron fans anyway.”
It is difficult to have time for self-reflection when you are never alone.
This is the second part of an ongoing look at the selfish and the un-selfish in the world of sports. The first part focused on Ilya Kovalchuk and his contract drama this offseason.