What should LeBron do? Winning will help many people forget what went down in July.
After a summer where he was ostracized and became a pariah in his home state, the start of the NBA season on Oct. 26 couldn't have come soon enough for LeBron James.
The aftermath of "The Decision" may not be soon forgotten in Cleveland, but the rest of the country (and the world) would slowly let the negative aftermath of that fateful July night seep out of the back of their minds as they got nightly glimpses of James' greatness on the court. Each triple-double, each rim-rattling dunk, each incredible no-look pass would allow casual observers of the sport to forgive—after all, he only made one mistake.
The unveiling of his new 90-second Nike ad certainly didn't hurt either.
A wonderfully crafted spot that is more of a rebuttal to James' critics than it is an actual commercial for Nike products, LeBron took a huge first step in reinserting himself back in our lives...in a positive way, instead of how we interpreted him this offseason.
There's only one thing that stood out as a bit odd: James asked, "should I accept my role...as a villain?"
Even though it's obviously a hypothetical and rhetorical question, he knows the answer—a resounding no.
He doesn't want to be the bad guy. He wants us to like him, to admire him and to respect him. You can't blame him; he's been adored since his high school days.
Fortunately for James, he still has many, many years to work himself back into the public's good graces. It won't be difficult as long as he stays on the right path and continues to conduct himself in his usual dominant manner on the basketball court.
Here are a few suggestions for our former King on how to keep building from the positive PR momentum generated from his Nike commercial.
Makes sense, right? Why not stick with what worked?
This particular spot was so appealing because, after a summer of mindless, generic quotes and an hour-long special where James seemed like a spoiled kid who showed no remorse or emotion at all, it made him seem personable once again.
The public developed their own interpretation of James' persona over the last seven years as a fun-loving yet unstoppable basketball player who was a great teammate because of the way he interacted with the 14 other players on the bench.
None of his actions on or off the court or in any of his commercials or interviews seemed contrived—he was just a playful kid living out his dream of not only playing in the NBA, but taking over the association.
But no one saw that playful little kid on July 8. They saw the selfish, spoiled one.
If James wants to be the global icon he once aspired, advertisements will be critical because they'll hold a strong influence on how much the public embraces him. This commercial not only highlighted the persona of James that the public has created since he joined the league but also showed a different side—a side of James that could poke fun at himself.
An ad where James basically says "I'm me, not what you think I am," and he somehow comes across as more personable and likable? That's brilliant.
Remember the commercials from a few years back with the four LeBrons? "The Decision" would have been made by the little kid. This new spot would have been approved by the wise, experienced man.
Normally after a PR disaster, you don't come out making more noise and drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. But that's exactly what James did.
He joined Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in some sort of elaborate celebration that looked like a championship parade...only nothing had been won yet. It drew criticism from fans and media alike, including Charles Barkley, who called it a "punk move."
He tweeted about keeping mental notes of those who had "took shots" about him in the offseason.
He tried to make it seem as if race was the prominent factor for the backlash of his decision in the summer. Most people concede that race is almost always an issue, but it was his narcissism and ego that really irritated people.
He tried to spread the blame instead of facing it.
He's taken steps in the right direction recently, most notably saying that he would have handled "The Decision" differently (of course, he probably should have said that on July 9). However, he didn't elaborate on what he would change.
Whatever it is, come out and say it. "I wish I would have informed Cleveland first."
"I wish I didn't pretend to make the show about a charity donation."
"I wish I would have not done the TV show at all."
Just tell us what you would have done differently. Apologize for doing it that way and then move on—we'll never have to speak of it again.
Actually, he should apologize for two things...
Seriously, how hard would this have been? And why hasn't it been done already?
All it would take is something like this:
I'm more than immensely sorry for how the events of the summer transpired. The last thing I want to do is hurt the people, the community and the state that has constantly supported me since I was in junior high school.
I never imagined anything like this happening. I knew that if I decided not to play in Cleveland, it would disappoint millions of people. Myself and those close to me thought we could soften that blow with the preface that the ad revenue for our show would go to charity...and we couldn't have been more wrong.
I want to thank every person that attended a Cavaliers game in the last seven years. I want to thank every person that bought a LeBron James jersey. I want to thank every person that stopped me and told me how proud they were that a local person was making our city and state relevant again.
All of my teammates know how much love and respect I have for them. The battles we went through cannot be replicated nor forgotten. I'll remember each and every one of them for the rest of my life and wish them nothing but the best for the rest of their careers and lives.
I appreciate how the front office did everything possible to make us a winning team. They're commitment to improving our roster each and every year was rewarding, and it made me appreciate how dedicated this franchise is to being great.
I realize that nothing I can say or do will make up for what happened on July 8. But just know that I wouldn't trade my time in Cleveland for anything in the world. You truly were some of the most supportive people I've ever been around, and I hope our respective franchises can both enjoy tremendous success now and in the future.
Put an ad in the newspaper. Hold a press conference or an hour-long TV special. Whatever it takes, just do it already.
This one's easy and doesn't take any apologizing, any regrets or any contrived actions—LeBron just needs to be himself, on and off the court.
In every "major" story that has revolved around LeBron this offseason, he just didn't seem like the same guy the public has seen and known...even in his high school days.
Maybe this past summer has changed him to some degree, but the new Nike ad suggests he's still fundamentally the same.
He needs to channel the inner-LeBron, the guy who captivated the basketball nation with his charm, his smile and dominant play. Getting back to playing basketball routinely will help...and so will winning.
Once the Heat start winning and blowing teams out (and after the last three games, that process looks like it's well under way), the old LeBron, the one who was perceived so positively by the public, will once again begin to surface.
Every suggestion prior to this has been ways LeBron can help boost his image off the court. But that's only half the battle...and really, the least important part.
LeBron is easily one of the top-three players in the league. In terms of overall talent, no one can touch him. He has the passing abilities of Oscar Robertson and the physical build of someone like David Robinson.
That ability will only benefit how he's perceived. As long as he keeps getting better and making strides (like he has this year with a renewed post-game and a more intense defensive game), his image will improve as well.
Most people outside of Ohio won't hold him accountable for the aftermath of "The Decision" forever. Dominance may breed contempt, but it'll also bring respect.
You could see it in the body language of the Heat players during their first few games. Even when they ran the 76ers off the court last Wednesday, they didn't seem like a team but more like the first game on a pick-up court when four of the five best players ended up on the same squad.
LeBron's interaction with his teammates in Cleveland brought both positive and negative reactions. Some saw their communication as ideal for a championship-level team—they always were having fun and it seemed like all 15 guys genuinely cared about each other.
They seemed like they would all go out for pizza or to the movies after the game...like a JV team that spends all their together, going from class to practice and hanging out on the weekends too.
On the other hand, some felt their excessive dancing and showmanship went over the top, especially in the postseason, when the Cavs suddenly were tense, nervous and not displaying any of the positive team characteristics they showed during the regular season.
The "old" LeBron was all fun and games. The "new" LeBron is all business. But there's a time for both—he just needs to figure out how to walk that line. And winning only makes the game more fun.
James is not the first player to have his image tarnished while he's still playing with seemingly no hope of ever being embraced by the public.
Bill Simmons briefly details the beginning of Magic Johnson's career in his latest article. Here's an excerpt:
"Only one other time did a beloved NBA star make a WWE-style heel turn like this: Magic Johnson after he signed his 25-year, $25 million contract in 1981, when everyone blamed him for getting coach Paul Westhead fired and Sports Illustrated called him a 'greedy, petulant and obnoxious 22-year-old.'
"They booed him at home. They booed him on the road. The press hammered him. His signature smile faded away.
"He became 'decidedly less outgoing,' in the words of SI's Bruce Newman, who quoted Magic as saying, 'It has been tough as far as keeping myself together mentally and trying to concentrate. Before all that happened it was like having an understanding with the fans. They like having someone they could reach out to and call a friend.'"
A pretty similar situation, right? But things turned out alright for Magic Johnson—he won three more championships, is considered one of the greatest point guards ever and he's routinely placed in the Top Five All-Time NBA players.
So, as Simmons says, there's hope for LeBron. All he has to do is win one championship, and most of his critics will have nothing left to fire back at him.
One of James' biggest critics, Yahoo! Sports writer Adrian Wojnarowski, did a wonderful job of laying out the challenges that face James this year, one of which is adjusting to the fundamental changes of moving from Cleveland to an organization like Miami.
The main point Wojnarowski makes is that, while James was coddled in Cleveland and treated above the rest of the organization for fear of him growing upset with the team, Miami wants him to "stay in line."
Potential incidents like the alleged one in the article are behind-the-scenes stuff. Things that people generally don't hear about and really don't have that much of an impact on how James is perceived.
But this still has an impact on his future. With Pat Riley present, Wojnarowski argues that "there's someone to confront James. There's someone who isn't held hostage, who isn’t terrified of telling him, 'No.'"
While we want James to bring out the persona that everyone loved, that guy will never be exactly the same. This version of LeBron James will face some serious character tests...and how he responds will affect his image.
There's no need to elaborately go in-depth discussing this aspect of James' game. He has the ability to win multiple MVP awards.
He'll be near the top in all-time points and assists rankings.
If any player in this generation could average a triple-double for an entire season, he's the most likely candidate.
He's 6'9" and has the passing abilities of Magic Johnson...only he's built in Karl Malone's frame. And every year he comes out with new weapons to add to his arsenal.
In 2008 he showed how versatile of a scorer he was by leading the league in points per game.
In 2009 he made an All-Defensive Team for the first team his career, putting to rest the myth that he wasn't a strong defender.
In 2010 he shot over 50 percent from the field, attacking the hoop more instead of settling for jump shots.
And this year, he's displayed a renewed vigor to operate out of the post more often, where he has a physical advantage over almost anyone who attempts to guard him.
There aren't that many areas where he can keep improving. But if he keeps highlighting ways to get better, he has a chance to become the defining player of this generation.
Guys like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson had incidents that portrayed them in a negative light. Ultimately, it was their talent that everyone remembered. The same can go for James, if he transcends his game to their level.
The only thing better than one championship? Two championships. And three. Then four.
James, Wade and Bosh signed up because they wanted to win multiple titles—and James' legacy hinges on it.
But if James lays low, avoids unnecessary attention by making outlandish statements, continues to dominate on the court and wins multiple titles, then few will remember "The Decision" as anything more than a small mistake made by a man who didn't know any better.
James' reputation can't be salvaged in a year. It will take time. But as the King himself recently said, Rome wasn't built in a day.