LeBron James craves attention, that can never be disputed. From the much maligned ESPN show “The Decision” to his October 2010 “Hater Day” on Twitter, the self-anointed “Chosen One” has no problem looking for ways to have the spotlight shine on him, and he doesn’t seem to care on which side the light hits him.
On the one hand, since “taking his talents to South Beach”, he’s been scrutinized and hated on by many. In professional wrestling parlance, LeBron went from “baby face” to “heel,” and in some circles has become the player people love to hate. On the other, for the first time since his rookie year, his jersey is the top-selling jersey in the NBA, and he received his usual 2 million plus all-star game votes.
LeBron raised eyebrows when he said of game 5 of this year’s finals, “I understand what is at stake,” James said Thursday morning. “This is a big game, probably the biggest game of my life. I’m approaching it that way. Not probably, it is.”
WATCH LeBRON RESPOND TO THE CRITICISM HE’S RECEIVED:
However, with his latest attention play — his “Now or Never” tweet before game 5 — LeBron raised the stakes significantly — well, sort of. After recording a highly criticized — and deservedly so — triple single in game 4 against the Mavericks, something in LeBron’s showman psyche told him to pump himself up to his 2 million Twitter followers.
It was a smart power move. It was game 5 not game 7, so it was not a must win game, yet in tweeting boldly LeBron brought more attention to himself, and allowed the haters to say, “what an arrogant cuss, I hope he falls on his face”, while his fans said, “see how much heart he has, he put himself out there to deliver”.
Last night in game 5 LeBron recovered from his horrific game 4 triple single, with a triple double. Still his Miami Heat team lost and LeBron only scored two points in the fourth quarter. But the outcome of the game really didn’t matter. Even with a Heat win, the LeBron haters will still be tuning in to game 6 and game 7 if need be, to see LeBron bomb and the Mavericks win the NBA title at his expense. The game 5 loss just has his detractors salivating that much more. Meanwhile his supporters will tout his triple double and tweet about how he’s just warming up for a game 7 outburst.
LeBron will have to deliver in two more games and from where I sit, herein lies the issue. LeBron is trading on his celebrity to pump himself up, and though it’s smart marketing, it doesn’t speak to a competitive fire in the way that say a Bill Russell throwing up before every big game, or Michael Jordan making up stories of his opposition insulting him, just so he could raise his competitive embers to a fever pitch.
LeBron’s “Now or Never” tweet was bold, but it was bold in a calculated sense. Even the words “Now or Never” have more the ring of a slogan than a heartfelt take no prisoners attitude. I know a lot of LeBron fans, and almost to a person they are more interested in LeBron’s stat sheet, than they are the Heat winning a title, and though this is hardly scientific, one need only look at some of the Twitter posts to @KingJames (LeBron’s twitter handle) to see what I mean. They all were predictive of LeBron having a big night. None mentioned a Heat victory.
WATCH NBC SPORTS COVERAGE OF GAME 5 OF THE NBA PLAYOFFS:
It might be subtlety but on a truly close inspection, this attitude reminds me of the Colonel Nicholson character played by Sir Alec Guiness in The Bridge On The River Kwai. Nicholson was a prisoner of war whose primary aim when being held captive was to prove how tough and soldierly he was. Yet while Nicholson had something to “prove”, the other prisoners continued to plot how to win the war. Many of LeBron’s fans could care less about him being on a championship team. Sure it would be nice, but it has little to do with why they support him.
There are those who think through his attention grabbing actions, LeBron is putting more pressure on himself, and if the Heat come up short in this year’s finals, LeBron will have damaged his image as an all-time great. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure if he’s ring-less, he’ll take some criticism over the summer, but LeBron knows memories are short, and that in the game of self-promotion, winning and losing take a back seat to marketing.
No matter what the outcome of this year’s finals, LeBron is looking at ways to draw more attention to himself for the next NBA season. In fact, don’t be surprised if the Heat don’t win it, to see LeBron publicly eat humble pie, and take a page out of the 1977-78 Doctor J/Philadelphia 76er playbook, and go on a “We Owe You One” campaign. In fact when I close my eyes and squeeze real hard, I can already see the Nike commercial.