From national hero to figure of great dislike?
LeBron James was once considered one of the most popular young athletes in American sports history but his poor handling by advisers and media miscalculations have drastically shifted his image into one of general antipathy amongst the public.
James recently told CNN that race was a factor in the Q Scores poll that rated him as the sixth most disliked figure in sports. It's fair to say that few athletes have been showered in as much collective love as King James has during his still young and ever blossoming career. He should remember that he holds the key in deciding whether fans like him by the way he portrays himself in front of the media and shouldn't have taken the convenient stance of blaming racism for the nation's backlash at his growing list of poorly timed decisions.
Even while still enrolled in high school LeBron was treated with uncommonly dedicated media coverage and received attention like no youth athlete ever had. Through both his tremendous talent and the media proclamation that he indeed was the "Chosen One," James' life became that of no other high school senior. He was given a Hummer H2 for his 18th birthday and accepted gifts of $845 in throwback jerseys prompting multiple investigations. James was suspended for two games and St. Vincent–St. Mary High School was forced to forfeit one game.
Soon after his graduation, Adidas, Reebok, and Nike fought over his services with Nike eventually landing LeBron for an unprecedented sum of $90 million. This was only the start of King James earning extremely lucrative deals from major brands such as McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and State Farm among others. Without even mentioning the $62 million paid to him by the Cleveland Cavaliers or the $14.5 million he's set to earn in his first year with the Miami Heat, at 25 LeBron has been one of the highest paid athletes of our time.
I'm certain that after LeBron made his decision, he did receive a fair amount of racist hate mail. It's unfortunate that even part of the life of being a successful black athlete involves being subject to racial abuse. James most definitely grew up playing in small-town arenas of Ohio and probably received lots of unfair jibes from parents of white kids who were jealous as he would run up the score on the drastically less talented teams. Most influential black athletes have chosen to keep the lid on such instances and risen above the abuse of simple-minded types who choose to subject them with racism.
The "Real LeBron" was a secret that was tightly kept under wraps but fans have gotten wise and learned some truths about the Heat superstar. Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski's excellent articles have exposed a collection of little known stories that paint James in a different light than ESPN or Nike execs would like you to believe.
The brain-trust of USA basketball—Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Collangelo—questioned the worth of bringing LeBron to the 2008 Beijing Olympics as they saw him as an immature, egotistical, and disrespectful figure. James frustrated everyone involved with USA basketball as a 19-year-old in Athens with his behavior and for carrying a large entourage who followed his every move during the 2004 Olympics. USA officials referred to the group as “The Enablers" as they allowed LeBron to carry himself in such a manner. Oddly, it was actually a Nike representative who reached out telling him to get serious or he wouldn't be traveling to Beijing.
Behind the scenes, James would constantly make demands to the Cavaliers with no intention of staying in Cleveland. He plotted for years trying to oust head coach Mike Brown even after he had won the 2009 NBA Coach of the Year and finally got his wish after Cleveland was knocked out of the Eastern Conference finals by the Boston Celtics, due in large part to what many perceived as "LeBron quitting on his team." Cavs GM Danny Ferry had fought for Brown but owner Dan Gilbert decided to obey every command of King James by firing both of them.
He then slapped Gilbert in the face by refusing to speak to highly-respected Michigan State coach Tom Izzo—lined up as Brown's replacement—and even refusing to answer any of Gilbert's answering machine pleas. It's little wonder why Gilbert blasted James in an open letter after his decision to sign with the Heat.
For an athlete in LeBron's position where teams like the Cavs, Knicks, Nets, and Heat were all willing to blow up their franchises in an effort to sign him, the thought of James playing the race card truly shows how entitled he is. Given the amount of support by major worldwide brands and the amount of media coaching he's been through since a young age, it is truly amazing that LeBron would not only make such a bold statement but later not even backtrack slightly when asked about it the next day.
There are folks around the country who face true racism, some who struggle with it on a daily basis and for a multi-hundred-million-dollar athlete to use it as a crutch is a slap to society as a whole. LeBron only has to take a look in the mirror for the reason why fans nationwide have turned on him.