Friday, July 09, 2010

Thinking 'Bout Last Night... or, How Lebron James Ruined His National Brand

Awesome screengrab from Ball Don't Lie.

I watched the Lebron James trainwreck last night. Likely, you did too. I'm sure when the ratings come in, we'll all be as embarrassed as we were when we realized that we had made Titanic the highest grossing film of all time. We were duped, y'all. When Lebron announced he was going to Miami, I felt terrible about it. Not because he was leaving Cleveland--that much I expected. It was because of how he did it and where he went. It was because of what it proved about his arrogance, his immaturity, and his sense of entitlement. It was because it showed what he cared about, what he didn't, and how messed up his priorities were. I felt terrible because, in one fell swoop, Lebron destroyed his brand and his reputation. Now, I've been holding in a lot of perturbation with Lebron, his handlers, the pandering owners in Cleveland, and so much more. I wanted to let it all out. I was going to storm in this morning with a scathing tirade on the guy.

But Adrian Wojnarowski over at Yahoo! Sports said everything I wanted to say, better than I could ever say it in an article titled Easy Come, Easy Go For King James. I've never agreed with one of his articles more--this is a fantastic piece of sports journalism. Please read it. Here are a few highlights.

As the worst idea in the history of marketing unfolded, James looked trapped somewhere between despondence and defiance. His bumbling buddy Maverick Carter had walked him into the public execution of his legacy, his image, and there was a part of James that clearly wished he could turn back through the doors and hide. Only, it was too late. No going back now. James goes to the Miami Heat, Cleveland goes into a basketball Hades and LeBron’s legacy becomes that of a callous carpetbagger.

Oh my, yes. This was a terrible idea. Rather than saying goodbye to his hometown team behind closed doors, he dumped them live, on national television. Maybe he was masking guilt and maybe he was masking elation, but it was a cold, cold moment and James looked like a heartless robot doing it. It seemed careless, and could only serve to cast him as a villain. When he licked his lips just before announcing his decision, he may as well have been the serpent from Genesis, attempting to destroy humanity and steal away man's eternal joy. Legacy destroyed. And DecisionWater? Really? Let's move on.

So now people are cheering Dan Gilbert’s manifesto tearing apart James, but no one contributed more to what the world witnessed on Thursday night than the owner’s enabling of James and his inner circle for seven years. Gilbert is the biggest con going, a man who makes his fortune peddling mortgages, and he’ll make his next on casinos in downtown Cleveland. He sells illusions for a living, and now he’s selling the biggest of all: that he’s a victim here, that James betrayed everyone. That’s a lie, and no one ought to dare buy it.

Yes! Dan Gilbert's idiotic manifesto is classic revisionism, desperate to vilify Lebron before people realize he enabled this giant jerk. Over the last seven years, to hear Lebron tell it, Gilbert owed it to him to surround him with talent. It's garbage, and somebody should have told him that years ago. The Cavaliers weren't Lebron's team. They were Cleveland's team. Lebron simply played for them. Gilbert owed it to Cleveland to surround Lebron with talent. But, he held Lebron up over the city, and Lebron held him hostage for it. Lebron talked about the things he's done for Cleveland. What things are those, Lebron? You didn't deliver the championship, and you quit on the team two postseasons in a row. But nobody stood up to you, and that's not your fault. Don't you think, Cleveland, that you should have been told that Lebron wasn't returning a single phone call or text from Cleveland ownership? Gilbert should have exposed Lebron years ago. This is like being dumped by a boyfriend with a penchant for violence. If the relationship was so terrible, why did you stay? Because the sex was good? Gilbert looks like Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire: Abused, ignorant, careless, and equally at fault for what happens to Stella, the naive and melancholy dreamer who only wants to be happy again. And while Stanley was the aggressor, Stella deserved blame for enabling the attack on Blanche. Sound familiar? Let's move on.

So there was LeBron James, the MVP, the man of the hour, sitting in the middle of his own “Truman Show” on Thursday night. His personal network ran his commercials and celebrated his greatness and let him hijack a platform to build his brand and break hearts. He can never go home again now, and he can never completely rebuild what he let his cast of buddies talk him into losing that night. He’s taking his talents to South Beach, and the kid going away for the first time will have some party down there. After all these years, it was clear he had been coddled and protected and ultimately prepared to do one thing: Take the easy way out. Wherever he was going, he looked conflicted, lost and completely confused.

Preach it, Woj. Everyone, please do yourselves a favour and read the whole thing.

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