I ran across an article on ESPN today showing that LeBron James is having his best season yet statistically. I started watching some of his highlights from this year, and was reminded that he's the most talented basketball player I've ever seen. His combination of size, speed, quickness, and vision is just unprecedented. He should be one of the best players of all time, and an American hero.
Yet LeBron James is one of the most hated athletes in America because of one of the most idiotic PR moves in the history of sports. The most ironic thing about all of it is that in the years leading up to "The Decision," all LeBron talked about was that he and "his team" had to "make the right decision for his brand." When it came time for him to finally make up his mind, instead of expanding his brand he and his team succeeding in losing half of his fan base overnight.
Everything about it was wrong, everything except him leaving Cleveland. While I'm not a big fan of LeBron James, I have to grant him that. To me, he had no choice but to leave because just about every NBA legend who has won multiple titles played with at least two hall of famers. Jordan had Pippen and Rodman, Bird had McHale and Parish, Magic had Kareem and Worthy. The closest LeBron got to a hall of famer in Cleveland was with Shaquille O'Neal, who practically had to be wheeled out onto the court by the time they played together. And LeBron wasn't going to ever get anyone to be his "Robin" in Cleveland, because in today's free agent driven NBA none of the big names would have chosen to play in arguably the least attractive market in the league. His only chance for serious help would've been through the draft, but since he was always going to be good enough on his own to get the Cavs to the playoffs, that was very unlikely. I think that if he had announced his decision on twitter, released a statement on his website apologizing to Cleveland and explaining himself, and joined any team in the league besides the Lakers, Celtics, and obviously the Heat, the majority of people would've been fine with it.
But outside of leaving Cleveland, everything LeBron did was wrong. If you're going to tear a city's heart out, you just can't do it on national television, and you can't pretend like you only did it that way for a good cause. Everyone knows that he did it that way because he thinks he's such a big deal that doing it any other way would've been a disappointment to the rest of the world. Then came the whole "not five, not six" thing, where he just put as much pressure on himself as possible and added to the country's hatred of the Miami Heat.
This stuff has been beaten into the ground by writers and analysts across the country (by the way, when Skip Bayless tools on you, that's when you know you've hit rock bottom). But when I ran across that article on ESPN this morning, I decided to try to think of any ways that LeBron could recapture some, if not all, of his popularity. These situations are ranked by how effective they would be in regaining fans, and the number in parentheses is the percentage chance I give the situation of happening.
11. Stop Dressing Ridiculously (0%) - LeBron, stop wearing the stupid plaid pants with your bow tie and hipster glasses. Why can't you just dress like a humble professional, and stop throwing the fact that you have a ridiculous amount of money and terrible style in our face. This is just one of the many things that has built your pompous image, so recognize it, and end it. Where is his "team" in all of this?
10. Start Being a Bit of an Asshole (10%) - One of the things that makes it worse for LeBron is that he still tries to be the nice guy. He tries to be funny in interviews, he goes back to Cleveland to do his charity bike ride, he goes to Ohio State games and accepts the boos from the crowd. LeBron needs to stop trying to be loved again and start being defiant about his decisions. People like people that don't care. It's the reason that people love Kobe, because they know that he doesn't care about whether or not they like him, and there's something intriguing about that. LeBron needs to put his foot down and stop giving so many interviews, and start saying things like "I made my decision because I wanted to win, and if people aren't ok with that I don't want them as fans anyway." I think this attitude could do some reverse psychology on some people.
9. Be Seen with Tim Tebow (60%) - Tim Tebow is the most popular athlete in the country according to a recent ESPN poll, and he and LeBron have exchanged some friendly tweets in the past couple months. I think that most of Tebow's fans probably just assume that the Denver quarterback who always says the right thing was probably just being nice to LeBron, so if the two could actually be seen out on the town together I think it would be great for LeBrons image, and unlike the first two I think this has a decent chance of happening.
8. Be an Integral Part of another Gold Medal Team (80%) - Perhaps more annoying than LeBron James is when the US team doesn't win the gold. We have the best team, and it's not close. There shouldn't have to be "redeem" teams because we should just never lose. If LeBron can be a key part of another gold medal run this summer, and especially if he can play well down the stretch, he could gain some fandom back.
7. Score 70+ Points in a Game (30%) - It's harder for people to hate when you really just shove your talent in their face. Only five people in NBA history have accomplished this feat, and considering Michael Jordan only managed to score 69 in one game in his career, I think this could win him some fans. I think he's got the game to do it, especially if he continues to improve in the post, but it'll be hard to do with Dwyane Wade on the floor.
6. Enter the Damn Dunk Contest Already (15%) - Of all the things that LeBron does, this is the one that frustrates me the most. Jordan did it, Kobe did it, and LeBron won't do it because of the "injury risks." How is it risky for one of the most athletic people in the world to do something he does every day in practice with no one else on the floor. I honestly believe that he's just afraid to lose, because all he has is power dunks. And if that's the case, he's truly such a loser that he deserves all the criticism he gets.
5. Win Multiple Rings in Miami (65%) - Some people say that he doesn't just need to win, but that he has to be the lead dog for it to count. I think that's pretty ridiculous, because if LeBron doesn't play well there's no chance the Heat win a title. So if he plays well and wins a championship, even if D-Wade plays better down the stretch, he'll regain some popularity for finally getting over the hump.
4. Be Finals MVP (60%) - Considering that I think the Heat will probably win multiple title, I have to think that one of them will be with James as the MVP, which will obviously be huge for him. When the Heat are playing really well, which they'd have to do to win titles, it features Wade as the slasher and LeBron as the distributer and defender. Usually LeBron has the more filled stat sheet, and that usually translates to MVP awards, unless of course Wade is hitting every big shot.
3. Hit a Game Winner in a Meaningful Game (40%) - I'm talking about a big time shot. Either a conference final or an NBA final, preferably in a game that he's also had to lead Miami back from a sizable deficit, and preferably a game in which Wade doesn't play well. To LeBron's credit, he did hit that shot from near half court against the Magic, and he did have the best playoff performance I've ever seen in 2007. But we've forgotten about these plays, and he's got the worst clutch reputation in the league. A game winner would shut a lot of people up.
1. Win a Title Without D-Wade (10%) - There is an opt out clause in the Big 3s' contracts, and imagine if LeBron won one or two in Miami, left to join a team without another top five player, and finally won a ring on his own. There might still be haters, but there's really nothing they could say at that point. The dream scenario would be if he went back to Cleveland, but I don't even think they'd want him. Maybe Washington with an emerging John Wall or the TWolves with Rubio and Kevin Love would be good fits. This is obviously a long shot, but I think this is the only way he could completely fix his terrible image.