Monday, October 25, 2010

LeBron -- "Rise"?

For all of the criticism LeBron James has incurred this year, at least one ally is still standing in his corner: Nike—and their slick admen.

I give credit where credit is due, and it’s all due to the men and women behind this new commercial. It’s a creative, tongue-in-cheek response to those in the media and general public (yours truly included) who have tagged LeBron as everything from a coward to a delusional kid who’s too quick to play the race card. The literal and figurative wink to Charles Barkley, the Miami Vice parody (complete with a Don Johnson cameo), and even the calculated, reserved tone of an affected and besieged man all play skillfully against the stream of vitriol that has quieted only slightly since July’s “Decision”. The commercial will surely win back the approval of many who, prior to his PR downfall, could already be described politely as "fair-weather fans" (though, being an impolite guy, I think the term "dick riders" is a much more appropriate term). And since these fickle individuals are often the first in line at Foot Locker, the marketing people at Nike are on their game; they'll be selling more shoes and sweatbands in no time.

The problem with the ad, though, is this: In the end, all of its polished bravado serves to only amplify the more legitimate criticisms of James. Is he too quick to follow the advice of friends and an entourage who may not be the most talented PR people in the industry? His retort in the ad of, “They’re my friends” is thin, to say the least. (No, LeBron, you shouldn’t listen to them; being your friend doesn’t equal knowing what’s best for you professionally, or what’s best for your image. I love my mother, but I’m not going to rely on her for stock market advice.) Is he too egotistical? Nothing in this ad suggests any true humility on LeBron’s part; in fact, the defiant overtones instead edge the needle towards arrogance.

He starts the ad by asking if he should “admit that [he’s] made mistakes”. In a word: Yes. The poor choices and course of action at the heart of his public relations tailspin over the summer are what I (and I suspect my fellow dissenters) most want to see him show penance over. Has he made mistakes? Absolutely. Should he be forever crucified for them? Of course he shouldn’t. But what he should be able to do is accept his errors; to learn from them, and make himself a better person in the process. And this is where this marketing-friendly “response” to his critics fails. Instead of being humbled by his missteps and vowing to grow from the experience, he remains unapologetic and naively defensive of his decisions.

Nike’s commentary accompanying the ad reads:
This isn't about what LeBron James has done, or hasn't done. This is about the difference between the expectations others may have of him versus the expectations he has of himself. What should he do? The answer is a question.

Despite this explanation being as subversive and haughty as it gets, I offer the following as the definitive question to their answer:

Shouldn’t LeBron expect better of himself?

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