A career of quotes and commercials is ready to be watched and enjoyed.
I have written many things about LeBron James. I once wrote an essay for school (yeah, it was pretty cool writing about sports for an actual assignment) back in the spring of 2012 entitled, “Dethroning the King: Why we Love to Hate LeBron.” Although I didn’t necessarily include myself in the “we” (it was really directed at “sports fans in general”) I had no problem identifying and explaining a number of reasons for the general dislike of LeBron James. And most of the reasons were pretty darn good.
At that time, the last significant television ad featuring LeBron was the Nike “What Should I Do?” commercial, which came off the wrong way to a lot of fans and was often criticized and spoofed. The ad, although well-made, creative, and accurate, was largely a response to the intense criticism LeBron faced when he left Cleveland. It was Nike’s way of justifying the actions of one of their biggest endorsers. But regardless of the ad’s artistic excellence or its dubious reception, its greatest contribution to the LeBron Chronicle comes from the ad’s title; LeBron’s question to Cleveland and the rest of the NBA’s fans marks the uncertainty of that time in LeBron’s career: “What Should I Do?” This question joined a host of others that swirled around the sports world amidst a storm of angry criticism: “Why would he leave Cleveland?” “Does he really have the will of a champion?” “What does this mean for his legacy?” “Is he the best player in the game?” “Can he ever surpass Michael Jordan?”
That commercial aired before he ever played a game in Miami, and I wrote my paper as the 2012 Playoffs approached. Between those two dates LeBron and the Heat lost the NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, and LeBron gave one of the strangest responses to a question in a press conference I have have ever heard (outside of “because ya’ll muthaf–kers never watch us play” (lol Roy)). He gave a startlingly honest and original quote, saying:
“All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”
And he got absolutely crushed for saying it. These appear to be the words of a rich, arrogant athlete after a tough loss. This added fuel to the fire of a public relations campaign that included the infamous “Decision” and the introductory press conference/laser light show/Chris Bosh roaring display that brought about “not 5, not 6, not 7.”
When I wrote my essay in 2012, LeBron’s career was hurtling to the precipice of definition. For nearly a decade the world watched as the most anticipated legacy in basketball history unfolded. Years of awe-inspiring feats of athleticism and statistical accumulation had reached critical mass as critics and skeptics demanded a championship, something he had failed to do despite coming very close in Cleveland. Now, in the spring of 2012, after seemingly quitting on Cleveland and all of the ensuing fallout and losing the 2011 NBA Finals in disappointing fashion, all the pressure was on LeBron. No longer the happy kid dominating the league in a Cavaliers uniform, the NBA’s designated villain faced the gauntlet of the NBA Playoffs with only one acceptable outcome.
He didn’t disappoint. After battling back to defeat the Celtics, the Heat cruised past the Thunder and captured the NBA Championship. LeBron’s defining quote after this Finals? “It’s about damn time.” And the basketball world agreed. It was about DAMN time that the mightiest basketball player in the world captured a championship. As definitive and declarative as that quote was, it only brought the questions in the King’s career to a murmur heading into the 2012 off-season.
The murmur was quiet enough for Samsung to venture forth with a special LeBron commercial that debuted on the opening day of the NBA season and made this cool sort of transition thing into the start of the game. In a nice, whimsical commercial, the happiest LeBron we’d seen in a while went about a relaxed day, eating breakfast with his family, getting an unnecessary haircut, and talking to fans. Samsung declared about LeBron and their new phone (or whatever the ad was for (who cares)) “The Next Big Thing is Here.” That could have been a subtle MJ reference.
The happy Samsung LeBron cruised through the regular season, largely ignoring the inevitable talk, especially that which arose around Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday when everyone decided to compare Jordan, LeBron, and Kobe Bryant again. Despite all the questions, criticisms, and debates, public perception started to swing towards LeBron as more and more people realized/remembered how good he really was. He starred in a chill-inducing ad for the playoffs that said, at least to me, “Look out. LeBron’s coming to defend his title”. Maybe not everyone was on LeBron’s side, but everyone was ready to see what he would do next.
After two easy rounds, the Playoffs became tumultuous as the Heat battled the Pacers and escaped after winning a Game 7. But the job was not done. The murmur grew to a deafening roar as the tumultuous Finals versus the Spurs raged on, reaching its zenith with a Mike Breen “BANG!” This year’s championship defining quote was a world away from the “I’m rich you’re not” of 2011.
“I ain’t got no worries,” said LeBron, setting off Trip Lee’s song in my head. After three unbelievably pressure-filled years, LeBron could stand at the trophy presentation and say to the millions watching, “I MADE IT.”
Here we are now in the fall of 2013. The questions didn’t stop after “I ain’t got no worries,” but they finally began to really slow. And they should, because now we need to turn all those ?’s into !’s. Because otherwise we might miss something truly amazing.
We don’t have to ask questions anymore because we finally know what LeBron James is. We have watched him grow into the most dominant player in the league, the best by a country mile. We’ve seen him become a mature man and a clutch player. We’ve seen him win two championships. All the questions that started at St. Vincent/St. Mary’s High School are being answered. The giant checklist of LeBron’s career has been filled out: all-star, best player in the league, elite shooter, dominant post game, first-rate defender, clutch player, team leader, champion. Check ’em all. The only thing left is Greatest of All Time. And we won’t/can’t know that until his career is over and we have a few years to look back on it. Right now, despite the fact that there is a lot of drama left in his career with upcoming free agency, we know a lot of how LeBron’s career will play out. We know how good he is and how good he’s going to be. All that’s left to do is see what he does. For one of the few times in life, it’s time we make like Miamians. How’s that? Another commercial.
Nike’s ads have finally come full circle. About three years after “What Should I Do?”, Nike aired “Training Day” on Sunday Night Football. As John Legend’s symphonous voice cures undiscovered diseases, LeBron goes about riding his bike, running, swimming, and playing pickup ball as a crowd of faithful fans follow him throughout the day. That ad unlocked for me the secret to watching the rest of LeBron’s career.
Watch it. Enjoy it.
Hating LeBron isn’t cool anymore. It’s socially acceptable, but it’s a tired mode of fandom. He’s not the villain we once thought he was, as is evidenced further in yet another commercial (the one with him and his family, particularly his two young sons (yes I know ads can lie but that’s who people perceive LeBron to really be)). Instead of hating LeBron, it’s time we make like the people in the commercial and follow him. It’s time we stop trying to get in his way and talk about what he can’t be and start helping him towards what he can be. And he’s more than willing to let us help him along, just like the LeBron in the commercial loves having the fans come along with him. The commercial works because you can actually see LeBron stopping to play pickup ball or running along with a bunch of fans on the way to the gym. We’ve accepted LeBron, and he’s forgiven us. Now, instead of finding satisfaction in tearing him down, we lift him up. Now, instead of shrugging his shoulders, he extends his hand. This athletic hero, this sports god among men exists as both the superstar celebrity who jumps over John Lucas and jams with Jay-Z and the regular guy who teaches fans in the stand how to throw a proper chest-pass. One moment he chases down a breakaway and pins the shot to the backboard and the next he joyously tackles a fan for draining a half-court shot.
He’s not an NFL star that either comes off as too high-up, too arrogant, or too immature. He’s not Lionel Messi, far away on some distant planet called Europe. He’s not Sidney Crosby, playing a fallen sport. He’s not Miguel Cabrera, speaking English as a second-language. And he’s not Michael Jordan, a middle class kid who became a god and floated away from us on his cloud of unmatched greatness. He IS a poor child from a single mother who made it, a friendly married man and father of two kids. He’s one of us; our surrogate American Dream. And now, after a decade of questions, we know where he’s at, and he knows where we are with him. It’s time for the questions to stop. No more asking about his legacy. No more asking about his over-advertising. No more asking about little decisions here and there. It’s time to just watch him play.
You probably won’t ever get to see someone like LeBron again. That means you probably won’t get to ever see someone with a real chance of pursuing the title of best basketball player of all time. You’ll get to see the next great quarterback, pitcher, hitter, and goal-scorer, but you’ll never see another LeBron. To take a look at this man chasing this incredible goal in the way he does and choose to ask questions is a waste of time. Here we have the rare combination of a special human being that combines great talent with great personality. Why would we want to see that fail?
I didn’t get to see MJ play. It’s one of my great disappointments, being such a sports fan and particularly a basketball fan. (Some people around my age might say they watched MJ, but seeing him play for the Wizards or for the Bulls when you were five doesn’t count. It’s like watching The Godfather or reading Ulysses when you’re five). Thankfully, God has given me a chance to watch Jordan’s successor. I don’t intend to miss my chance asking silly First Take questions about LeBron. We don’t have to debate about him anymore. We know what he is. We know where he’s going. Now we just have to watch him get there. No more questions. It’s time we finally stop wondering and start watching. It’s time we stop hating and start loving. It’s time to just do what fans do and watch him play.
And it’s about damn time.
Unfortunately I don’t know where to find my essay from 2012. Browse the blog for some of my other work on LeBron. Like, comment, subscribe/follow, post to Facebook and Twitter, email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading!
Soli Deo Gloria