James, Now "King" of Criticism Back Home
by: Scott LaPeer
When you work in the media, there are 2 skills -- fundamental and foundational to any reporter -- one learns to sharpen and rely on more than any others: the ability to watch, and listen.
In the past year alone, I have had the opportunity to watch (in person and away from an NBA court) and listen to Lebron James. The reporter in me has seen and heard enough to tell you this truth about the 2-time defending NBA MVP: Lebron James is not exactly the person he's made out to be.
Exciting, dynamic, and immensely talented are all accurate words to describe "King" James. Conversely, however, self-seeking, disingenuous, and ego-maniac are words of another sentiment that also all describe James' character.
Let's quickly revisit a scene from almost exactly a year ago that tells you much about the "behind-the -scenes" Lebron James.
In Jackson, Mississippi, in late July, as a favor to his friend and then-teammate Mo Williams, Lebron James visited the Magnolia State's capitol city. By the time he left a day later, there was hardly a less popular NBA star in the history of the league to Central Mississippians than James.
James appeared at a charity auction dinner that night where the Mayor of Jackson presented James with a key to the city (just for stepping off his plane). His mere appearance is, undeniably, that powerful. His behavior, though, could not be denied or ignored. Aloof, and reluctant to take pictures with even the handful of young kids in attendance, James fiddled with his phone, his sunglasses on indoors. He couldn't have been less engaged with the people surrounding him.
The next day, scheduled to appear at Williams' annual basketball camp at 10 am, Lebron sauntered in over 2 hours late, guarded by his personal security team, and AFTER the final day of the camp concluded (difficult, certainly, to keep that appointment after staying out til 4 am partying at a local club -- confirmed by multiple sources, fyi). With anxious and star-struck kids waiting on his arrival, James, again, was intentionally disconnected, bizarrely shooting baskets at his leisure on a half court with kids, coaches, and media all roped off at a "safe" distance. James eventually would say a few, quick words to the crowd on hand, then took 4 pictures with each age group of campers. Once done, "The Chosen One" chose a side exit to bee-line for flanked by his team, no autographs for the kids, no talking to the media which stood around over 3 hours waiting on him, and most importantly, NO LOVE for his fans.
What I watched that day, and learned-- the character of Lebron James is very different than the general viewing public are led to believe. A short visit to little old Jackson, Mississippi was 24 hours for Lebron to live his life, largely, off the radar of the constant lights and mics of mainstream, national media. It's said a man's character is defined by how he behaves when no one is around to view him. On this afternoon, hundreds of hurt fans caught a glimpse of the real Lebron James.
Fast forward to this summer, and more of the same.
James, on his own free will and initiative, agreed to a 1-hour special to announce which team would "win" the free agent's basketball services. Snagging even more spotlight in which to elevate himself, James had the gross audacity to use a national platform to painfully and thoroughly gut his home town, state, and fans. In choosing the Miami Heat, I'm sure most of Ohio feels burned and disgusted by their hero's decision. Can't say I blame them.
Now, don't get me wrong... I have no problem with James leaving Cleveland. It was absolutely his right to explore his options as a free agent, and commit to wherever he wanted for whatever reasons compelled him. However, I, along with many, many others, have a problem with the way he did it.
To go on national television to make that kind of announcement, with the amount of collective interest and emotion hinging on his final word, was completely unnecessary, to say the least. Especially once knowing that final word would not be "Cleveland", James should have AVOIDED a grand platform, and made his decision known in a far less conspicuous manner. He also should have informed his former employers of his decision before he revealed it. It's the decent thing to do, unless you simply don't care how your departure effects those who supported, promoted, and ultimately signed your paychecks.
Again, and in finality, Lebron James' choice to take his talents elsewhere was well within his rights as a pro basketball player and person. In fact, when an NBA player CAN'T do just that after their contract expires, there's something fundamentally wrong with the league. It was the WAY he did it-- calloused and calculated, that reveals who Lebron James really is. Once the "King" of their court, James displayed an utter lack of sympathy and tact one would normally afford those they truly care about.
So who does James truly care about? Himself, obviously. A true "King", with humility, dignity, and grace, would have gone about this bit of business in a far less showy fashion (see: Kevin Durant's new deal).
Bottom line: Superstars, even those of James' astronomic caliber, ultimately do come and go. Personally, the constant lionizing and lifting up of James through national media, advertisers, and fans, is a worn out act.
A hero is not exclusively defined by his acts, feats, and accomplishments. Being a hero also involves behaving like one, and carrying one's self in a way worthy of glamor and glorification, long after the lights and mics have been shut off.
I know I'm not alone in this belief. There's an entire state now struggling to digest this very real truth.