By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
NBA star Lebron James was the focus of ESPN's "Outside The Lines" show Tuesday, just hours before his new team, the Miami Heat, opens its season against the squad that could very well be its top competition in the East, the Boston Celtics.
It seems like the Lebron conversation takes a new direction every few weeks since he ended his free agency by signing with Miami in July. In addition to the start of the new season, this week's angle is the new Nike commercial in which Swoosh producers seem comfortable trying something new and fairly difficult: turning Lebron into a sympathetic figure.
In the opening scene of the "Who Should I Be?" ad, James asks, "Should I admit that I made mistakes?"
The quick and loud answer to that is hell yes. Because none of the few reporters — <cough>ESPN</cough> — to whom Lebron has granted interviews has had the courage to ask if he thinks he's made any mistakes in his free agency, I think he should make such a public admission on his own. No script, no careful PR soundbite and definitely no moron, mid-20s manager meddling. Just Lebron, straight from the heart for the first time in a long time.
But here's the deal. Even as a Cleveland native and loyal sports fan, I don't think Lebron made mistakes. He made only one, but it was a pretty big one. Yet no one has asked him if he regrets it.
Lebron doesn't need to apologize for leaving Cleveland. Or for wanting to win championships. Some could say it's weak for someone as great as him to want to go elsewhere and team up with other stars to win rings. That's an entirely separate argument.
What Lebron, however, should apologize for, or at least acknowledge, is how he turned his decision into "The Decision," a self-obsessed, narcissistic circus that left everybody involved looking like they were guilty of a crime. Or at least in need of a shower.
Sure Lebron will win championships in Miami and certainly he'll bring a significant economic impact to that city. And he definitely did the players' union a long-term solid by getting his way in a league dominated by ownership. Lastly, the Heat's new Big Three and the way ESPN and others surely will cover them should generate greater interest in the NBA. And isn't that all David Stern could ask for?
On "Outside The Lines" Tuesday, one panelist called Lebron "charismatic." The rare athlete without much off-court drama is not the same as one who is charismatic. Sure he's widely reported to be an overall polite and cordial guy, which is great, but he can't speak English very well. I rarely consider poor speakers charismatic. Admitting a mistake or expressing regret, either eloquently or in James' typical clunky, unimaginative style, would do much to help his brand, and isn't America oh-so concerned about that dang brand of his?
Finally, since we're both talking about Lebron's brand and identifying erroneous equations, here's another one: a rich man is not the same thing as a businessman. Lebron is indeed one of those few global icons whose every movement affects his own personal brand. But how many businessmen do you know who employ an in-way-over-his-head manager like Maverick Carter? Loyalty is one thing; smart brand-building is quite another. Ditch your homeboy, acknowledge some sort of regret and get on with the championships.