This should be the most exciting season the NBA has seen since the 1990s. It comes down to four teams: the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic.
We can talk about the San Antonio Spurs, who are always in the conversation, the up and coming Oklahoma City Thunder and the many story lines that will make this season interesting: Amar’e Stoudemire in New York, Shaq in Boston, the rookie sensation John Wall in Washington, Yao Ming’s health in Houston, will Carmelo Anthony stay in Denver and just how good will the Heat be with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. But the real story of this season will be how James repairs his image? Besides winning of course.
I think once the ball goes up in the air in Boston on Tuesday night, it’s not going to matter, but for argument sake, we have to wonder if James will forever be looked at as a Benedict Arnold, narcissist or both. Needless to say, some believe he has tainted his legacy.
“He’ll never be Jordan,” said Charles Barkley back in July, shortly after James signed with Miami. “This clearly takes him out of the conversation. He can win as much as he wants to.”
James’ image went into the toilet overnight when he made his decision to take his talents to South Beach. Now he has the daunting task of earning the public’s trust again. Keep in mind, the night of his decision James raised over 2.5 million dollars for the Boy and Girls Club of America. That alone should have been enough to satisfy the masses. How often do we such an act of kindness by a professional athlete? This is America — where we hold the right to change jobs if we want to.
Where James went wrong is that he or his entourage infuriated many basketball fans this summer with a public relations nightmare.
The most important aspect from all of this scrutiny and criticism is that the backlash has nothing at all to do with his talents. Is the criticism merited? Who knows…what I do know is that the outrage is completely blown out of proportion by basketball talking heads like Barkley.
So what if LeBron is an egotist? That characteristic applies to many other professional athletes who have never had to deal with the same type of extreme and unnecessary assaults he has been forced to deal with. Warranted or not, James has become a victim, and none of the negative sentiments have anything to do with his talents as a basketball player.
Now, we all know that James has a special combination of size, speed and quickness that is unrivaled in the NBA today. There is no denying his talent and ability. He is arguably the best player in basketball, and quite possibly the world. But he has a great opportunity this season to lose himself and get back into the zone of playing the game of basketball. Right now, the best thing he could do for his public image is to just stop talking and to focus on playing the game. Perhaps he needs to stop making excuses, such as when he used the race card last week to explain the public outrage. LeBron should get back to basics. Show the fans and the media his love, passion, and intensity for the game of basketball. This could ultimately improve his public image in the long term.
The ultimate resolution for James’ contaminated image and character is for him to have success on the court with Miami. He must also immerse himself in the community. Become a philanthropist and a mentor. He doesn’t need to worry about what the media thinks about him, nor does he need to be concerned with what the fans outside of Miami think about him. The truth of the matter is this, James may never entirely escape the negative shadow cast upon him from the NBA’s offseason, but he does have a chance to lose himself in the game once the season starts, which I think he will do. You see, that’s the beauty of being so talented, it’s a redeeming quality that everyone respects and admires. But the level of criticism he’s dealing with now, will be nothing if the Heat are not successful. If Kobe Bryant can be loved again, certainly James can too
“LeBron is in a class by himself,” said NBA great Oscar Robertson on ESPN’s Outside the Lines. “What is legacy anyway? A guy can play or he can’t play. Legacy is after you are through with the game and gone and look back on your career. All this legacy stuff people keep talking about before a guy even finishes playing, it’s just TV talk. When they talk about you and they burn your jersey, man…just grit your teeth and go at them hard as you can and wear them out.”
By the way, even with all of this talk about LeBron, I’m still picking Boston for the record.