It's true. I'm now pulling for LeBron.

I used to be a LeBron fan. Then came The Decision, which annoyed me mightily. It wasn’t that he left Cleveland – he should have left Cleveland – it was the whole spectacle of how he did it. As I explained when it happened, that ESPN special was the moral equivalent of buying time on national TV to break up with your girlfriend. It was as self-absorbed and cruel as it was unnecessary.

So I’ve enjoyed his life on the griddle. Flaming out in the Finals last year. Enduring relentless pressure about his tendency to disappear in crunch time. And on and on. It’s been a stress-packed couple of years for King James. In other words, karma.

I encouraged him last year to sit down and offer up an unqualified apology for how he handled the break-up. There’s a lot to like about LBJ and let’s face it, America loves it some mea culpa and forgiveness theater. If sports fans can cheer for an irredeemable thug like Michael Motherfucking Vick, there’s probably still hope for Charles Manson. James hasn’t done that, of course, but at some point I have accept that there’s a difference between being a punk and being a guy who made a boneheaded PR move. An epic, graduate seminar case study-level boneheaded PR move, to be sure, but still.

See, as dumb an idea as The Decision was, there was actually a great story behind the whole trainwreck that didn’t get told. To wit:

The Decision was broadcast from the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, Connecticut, and the show raised $2.5 million for the charity. The show raised an additional $3.5 million from advertisement revenue which was donated to other various charities.

Would you go on national television and make a fool of yourself if it meant $6M for charities, the biggest chunk of which went to your chosen charity? Would I, for instance, embarrass myself on ESPN if I could raise millions of dollars for animal welfare causes around the country?

Probably. Especially if I had the PR resources to make sure that my story got told in a way that salvaged my image. You know, “Oh, he was being an idiot for a good cause – what a great man!”

But LeBron didn’t. I don’t know why, but he got himself in a situation where he engaged in brand suicide and somehow forgot to make sure that his agent had his back PR-wise.

I still think James should have handled it all differently and I still think he needs to say “I’m sorry” with no ifs, ands or buts attached. But I’m through hating. And if you know anything at all about the effect of stress on your health, you might well wonder how much time the last couple of years have taken off LeBron’s life. Being rich and famous doesn’t make you immortal and it doesn’t make your body immune to the realities of pressure. In other words, he’s paid a pretty high price already for what was mostly a PR crime.

So on the off chance that anybody cares, I’m pulling for the Heat. Best of luck, LeBron. I hope you get your ring. And then I hope that you never get another one because you lose to my Nuggets every year until you retire. But that ain’t hating….

4 replies »

  1. While I usually bet against him, I give him credit. He’s handled himself well during his career under terrific pressure; never really did anything remotely scandalous that I can recall. The Decision is not drugs, a bar fight, driving drunk, or anything like that.

  2. Let’s face it, this time of year is all about hating. The teams we actually like (Chicago for me) are long gone, and the teams still playing are the other guys, so the only issue is who do you dislike the least? And I have to go with Miami. It’s true, Miami stole two players, but OKC actually stole an entire team–remember, their owner bought the Sonics with the promise he wouldn’t move them. I don’t blame him for moving them (although the second they start losing, he’s going to learn a hard lesson about putting teams in third rate cities–see Jacksonville Jaguars) but I do blame him for lying.

    I think when all this is said and done, that LBJ may end up as the very best of them all, in the conversation with Chamberlain, Jordan, and Johnson.