POSTED: Thursday August 19th 2010

Mad Man Lebron

‘I don’t think he ever cared about Lebron’ – Lebron James, July 2010.

Leafing through this month’s GQ cover story on Lebron James and reading quotes like that, I wasn’t surprised to learn he’d begun referring to himself in the third person. Big time narcissism has long been the way of The Chosen One.

But as a watershed summer for his career unfolds in the press; its Lebron’s self-obsessed handling of himself that’s making it clear to what extent he views and carries himself as a product, and how little it’s working.

That superstars conduct themselves as product is an obvious assessment and an almost necessary tactic amongst figures of certain scalability. Publicly, President Obama is discernibly more product than person, as is Lady Gaga, and so was Tiger Woods. Celebrities of this ilk live in the limelight and their performance is so constant and ubiquitous that with the help of advertisers and PR druids, they end living as a product and a brand (for hundreds of millions or dollars), and we all know it.

But we’ve been raised to expect this kind of varnish from the megastar class; and rarely the ugly, banal and private side of their lives. And while we relish their public embarrassments, it’s the finish of cyclopean advertising campaigns and extensive PR regimes the masses really want.

So it hurts to hear Lebron James whine, in the third person no less, about how Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert didn’t care about him. Though to be fair , Gilbert, who was clearly scorned by James' choice, had fired off a now-infamous letter to Cleveland fans describing the departure as "a shameful display of selfishness and betrayal." He called James "narcissistic" and "self-promotional" and vowed the Cavaliers would win a championship before "the self-titled former king.”

Later that day he went on to state how he felt James had quit on Cleveland during the 2009 and 2010 playoffs. Gilbert was ultimately fined $100,000 by the NBA for what Commissioner David Stern said were comments that fell into the category of being "a little extreme." Regardless, James doesn’t get paid $90 million a year to complain about dribble, he makes it to be an NBA brand. Egotism, selfishness and complaining aren’t part of it, we get enough of that on our bus rides to work.

Lebron has long pursued the product route. He has openly declared that he, like Jay Z, is a business man and will be the world’s first billionaire athlete. But while Jay Z (soon to be a billionaire) blabbing about how business savvy he is, wearing suits with lapels so big you can see them from behind , and telling us all how rich he is will help sell records, that won’t work for Lebron. With salary caps, the bulk of James’ career hoard will come from advertising. But an athlete, whose stick is being rich because they’re willing to make themselves into a product, isn’t much of a marketable product.  Michael Jordan made $5.9 billion for Nike as something wholesome. At this point whatever weird fusion of irony, wealth and marketing Lebron wants to try won’t even broach what his hero cleared. 

The good news though is that the summer remains a watershed for Lebron James. With all the flak he’s taking in the media, I bet he’ll give up the Jay Z Campaign and aim at something less complex: being an amazing athlete, a good person and himself. 

In the meantime though, all this criticism and slander is only making The King angrier and more focused on improving his game. Word is he’s training harder than ever, which is scary. The media’s giving him more and more reason to make sure the Heat wins this year. So no matter what Lebron does PR wise, the league better watch out.

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Keywords · Lebron James · NBA · Cleveland Cavaliers · Mad Men · Mad Man · Lady Gaga · Tiger Woods · Obama · Jay-Z

Name: John Waverly

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