No one name in sports is more polarizing than LeBron James.
He's loved by some, yet hated by millions. I have to admit I was going to write a scathing review of his most recent comments. LeBron recently said he thinks race played a factor in how the public has perceived his defection to the Miami Heat.
Since the beginning, I've openly admitted I had NO problem with him going to the Miami Heat. We get to see a team you'd try to assemble on NBA Live or 3/10ths of a Dream Team. My problem was the way he went about announcing his decision. I openly believe 75% of the media and public shared this view. It was nothing short of an open slap in the face to all his fans and the entire city of Cleveland.
However, I think I'm starting to catch on to LeBron's game. He's performing the old "heel-turn" perfected by one Hulk Hogan. For years LeBron was the most beloved Superstar in the NBA. He was always the 2nd or 3rd best player in the league. He was able to sell millions of jerseys, gain a ridiculous following, and even promote a new saying, "I'm a witness". He single-handily took on the monumental task of turning around the fortunes of one terrible sports town (Cleveland).
Now don't get me wrong, Cleveland fans are both loyal and volatile. What I mean by that sentence is that they've been tortured for pretty much their entire existence, with the exception of the Jim Brown Era.
Look at what history LeBron has had to battle against. The Browns losing the "Fumble Game" against the Broncos in 1988 AFC Championship game. It has it's own Wikipedia page dedicated to it. Go ahead, start typing "the fumble" and see what comes up. Then in the 90's, their team gets stolen. The Browns are repackaged as the Baltimore Ravens, and win a Super Bowl a few years later. DAMN!.
In baseball, the Indians last enjoyed a World Series championship in 1948. They made it back to the World Series in 1997, had TWO OUTS in the bottom of the 9TH of Game 7, and STILL managed to lose. Did I mention it was to a team whose inaugural season was 1993? GUT-PUNCH!
How much worse can it get???
Finally, in basketball, the Cavs first get their hearts ripped out by the ruthless Jordan in both 1989 and 1991, on his way to his first championship. Then in 2006-07 they make it to the NBA Finals led by LeBron, only to have Tim Duncan and company, laugh in their faces, and sweep the series 4 games to none.
LeBron started looking across the way at Kobe, who admittedly was the most hated player in the NBA (except by those in LA). However, Kobe also had 5 championships. LeBron knew his time was limited and he needed to start winning titles ASAP in order to cement his legacy as one of the top 10 players of all-time.
This is where my theory comes in to play. He knew if he just announced he was going to Miami, everyone would still love him, but he'd risk falling into Dwayne Wade's shadow as the 3rd most popular player. LeBron began planning his attack carefully. He knew being the nice guy or "babyface" would only get him so far.
I'm convinced he knew he was going to Miami months before his ill-fated "The Decision 2010". He looked at Jordan, Kobe, and Isiah and thought, "I gotta get that mean-streak, I need to turn a few shades darker". That night, he decided to turn "heel" on the entire league and its' fan base.
On National TV he basically told Cleveland, "FU, I'm taking my talent elsewhere where it won't be squandered". Within an hour time, he went from most beloved player to most hated, even passing Kobe along the way. Anytime you can get millions of fans to go from jeering to cheering Kobe, that's a helluva feat.
However, he didn't want it to stop there. He wanted to show the world he wasn't messing around. In an interview he called out the critics by saying, "don't think I'm not taking note of what's been said". That didn't quite have the effect he wanted in having more people turn on him.
Therefore, recently he went with the old stand-by—the Race Card.
You know every time it's brought up in Professional Sports, it gets people talking. Usually a lot of disdain is shown towards the person who is using that card. In this case, his claims are so outrageous, people can't help but naturally hate him.
After the interview on CNN, he just sat back and let the controversy boil over, like a master chef preparing a stew. Going into this season he knows he's public enemy #1, not only in the NBA, but in all of professional sports. It was A-Rod, but people have started to warm to him through indifference.
I know LeBron isn't dumb enough to believe race was actually a factor. I do believe he is smart enough to know that controversy creates cash, and will only help his legend grow. That is if he silences all the critics by winning the title this year or next. Everyone is rooting for him fail, and nothing provides a greater motivation that proving them wrong, not even winning one for your hometown team.
In this day and age, being anti-establishment and the cocky heel is cool. LeBron is a marketing genius and understands this. That's why he's decided to switch personas. He no longer wants to be Batman, but rather the Joker, because the Joker always gets the last laugh.