In the face of difficult questions, the most talented egos use impeccable sleights of language to rebrand their behaviours to seem heroic. This series is dedicated to those rhetorician-magicians.
I: NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU CARE (you are here)
This is the story of an elite piece of artistic advertising by the swoosh-makers at Nike. But first:
THE BACK STORY:
As you likely know, Lebron “King” James (or “LBJ”) is one of the top two or three basketball players in the NBA. He’s been a superstar in his profession since, seven years ago, he transitioned from high school to play for his home state Cleveland Cavaliers in the world’s best basketball league.
From the start, he was not just a great individual scorer, but also possessed incredible vision and passing ability for someone who had skills enough that he could have ignored his teammates. And, just to add flavour to his abundance of greatness, he’s a rather handsome fellow, who contains a high level of charisma.
Strangely, though, somehow this year he has become, in the eyes of many observers, an NBA villain. You see, at the end of last season, his contractual obligation to the team that drafted him had expired, and he could sign with any new team that could afford him; unfortunately for Lebron, his decision, and the way he presented it, irked a few people.
Going in, it was estimated that several major factors would weigh in Lebron’s choice:
(A) his loyalty to his original team and fans, whom he had nearly (but not yet) brought a championship;
(B) his loyalty to his bank account—perhaps he would offer himself up to the highest bidder; and/or
(C) his pursuit of a championship—perhaps he would sell his services to the team he felt would give him the best chance of acquiring trophies.
Two years before making his decision, the King was already contemplating out loud his future options, which drew criticism from NBA legend, “Sir” Charles Barkley, who claimed that—until his contract with Cleveland was complete—that team deserved his full attention.
LBJ’s response was slightly less charming that his usual: instead of taking on Barkley’s point, James instead simply critiqued the man, himself:
“He is stupid,” said the then 23 year-old.
In defence of this slightly useless response, he had probably never before in his career encountered criticism, and so he had little idea of the proper way to deal with it.
This tendency to believe that he could do no wrong may have also influenced the royal star as he approached his decision before this season as to where he would play. The finalists, he assured us, still included Cleveland, but also, amazingly, the Miami Heat where another of the league’s top three players, Dwayne Wade, had already set up camp along with recently acquired free agent superstar, Chris Bosh. So, if LBJ signed there, too, the team would be stacked with talent not usually seen outside of an all-star game.
Some of us thought the idea of three superstars colluding to form one superpower team for the sake of winning a championship was somehow missing the point of the accomplishment. Winning the league’s top honour seems meaningful to me because great players are pitted against great players in a grand struggle for supremacy, but if you get there by putting all the best players on one team, that seems like a less difficult matter, and so therefore makes winning “a championship” a less valuable prize.
Indeed, the afore-insulted “stupid” Charles Barkley noted that he, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson would not have signed up for the same team in their era: they preferred to play against each other.
Nevertheless, most accepted Lebron’s right to choose his team. However, some still resented how he did it. Instead of making his choice and then—for curtesy’s sake—letting the runners up know, he staged a one-hour primetime television “reveal” interview in which he would announce his “decision” to the world that he would be… inspirational music, please… defecting to the Miami Heat.
He explained proudly, you see, that he was taking less money to give himself the best possible chance of winning (although, don’t worry too much for poor James: the endorsements acquired in his new situation should make up the difference pretty quickly).
It’s funny to me how in the sports world the selfish pursuit of winning (i.e. pursuing winning for oneself at the expense of one’s former teammates and fans) is somehow considered noble. I don’t really get why greed for glory is any more beautiful than greed for money. They’re both just about providing Lebron James with a happier life.
Regardless, as the now dubbed “Big Three,” Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade showed themselves off in a lavish welcome to winning party at Miami’s home rink, Charles Barkley was once again shaking his head. He argued that James’ television announcement again showed disrespect for the King’s ex-team, who Barkley said deserved to be told of his decision privately before James started dating his new city.
The snubbed city agreed with Barkley’s assessment and burned various Lebron products in effigy, while their majority owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote to the fans:
“You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. … I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE. You can take it to the bank… This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown ‘chosen one’ sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And ‘who’ we would want them to grow-up to become.”
Wow! That was a bit much (for instance, I’m not sure exactly how James’ decision was cowardly, nor why career-commitment to one’s first employer is the prime measure of a role model), but I can understand the guy who’s losing the most by Lebron’s decision wanting to rally his fans to stay loyal with a firey retalliation.
But wait! Lebron James actually felt bad about leaving Cleveland.
“I never wanted to leave Cleveland,” he explained. “My heart will always be around that area. But I also felt like this is the greatest challenge for me, is to move on.”
Sorry, to be a nag, Lebron, but, um didn’t you say that you were going to Miami because it gave you the best chance at victory? Yeah, I think that was you who said: “I feel like this is going to give me the best opportunity to win. And to win for multiple years. Not only just to win in the regular season, or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row. I want to be able to win championships, and I feel like I can compete down there.”
So, wouldn’t the bigger “challenge” (that you seem so interested in) have been to stay with the team who wouldn’t given you the biggest chance at perpetual league dominance?
So, all of this is to set up—for those who weren’t previously in the Lebron loop—Mr. James’ new Nike commercial, which responds eloquently to all of the hurtful criticism he’s received for his defection.
Let’s watch, and then we’ll come back to me for comments.
Note: when Lebron says hello to “Chuck,” he’s winking at the above-mentioned Lebron-critic, Charles Barkley.
Wow, I must say: that was very good work, Nike writing staff.
As you have hopefully just enjoyed, Mr. James takes us through a series of earnest rhetorical Lebron-spoken questions. “Asks” he:
What should I do? Should I admit that I’ve made mistakes?Should I remind you that I’ve done this before? Should I give you a history lesson? What should I do? Should I tell you how much fun we had? Should I really believe I ruined my legacy? What should I do? What should I do? What should I do? Should I have my tattoo removed? Want to see my shiny new shoes? Should I just sell shoes? My shiny new shoes. Or should I tell you I’m not a role model? (Hi Chuck.) Seriously, what should I do? Should I tell you I’m a championship chaser? That I did it for the money? Rings? Should I be who you want me to be? Should I accept my role as a villain? Maybe I should just disappear? Should I stop listening to my friends? They’re my friends. Should I try acting? Should I make you laugh Or should we just clear the deck and start over? What should I do? Should I be who you want me to be?
Along with being an impressive and entertaing commercial, it magically tricks the viewer into filling in the blanks of Lebron “Nike” James’ argument. This is as clever as any great piece of incomprehensible art that asks the viewer to fill in the substance of the message.
PATRON: Excuse me, I’m not sure what this large blue triangle is meant to say. You can you give me any insights?
ARTIST: It means whatever it means to you.
PATRON: Oh, I see. I guess it kind of reminds of my struggles with geometry in school, and how I felt like I couldn’t make it fit together.
ARTIST: Beautiful! Exactly!
Lebron’s not going to tell us why he left Cleveland—maybe it was for the money (and if we’re big fans of money, we’ll settle on that answer and be satisfied); maybe it was because he’s a “championship chaser” (wow, that’s very poetic, and again implies some honour in his departure). Regardless, what exactly did we expect of Lebron James? He never claimed to be our role model. He’s just a man made of flesh and ego like of the rest of us. Indeed, as he repeats this question throughout the soliloquy, the fact that there is no obvious answer seems to imply that there is no obvious flaw in his behaviours.
Most brilliant, ghostwritten-James seems to be indicating that, in the end, he doesn’t really care what we think of him. He’s gotta be him. If winning championships for his family and friends is wrong, then he doesn’t wanna be right.
We can dress him up in a villain costume (as they do in the commercial) if we want, but he’s still gotta be himself.
I especially like that, in spite of his implied ghostwritten insistence that he doesn’t care what we think of him, when he asks, “Should I not have listened to my friends?” he can’t help making an argumentative answer, “They’re my friends.” But, other than on that one point, he doesn’t care what we think!
It’s a wonderful script that we can all learn a lot from: there’s really no point in continuing to dislike Lebron—it’s not going to bother him in the slightest. In fact, his rogue lack of interest in our opinions should make us kinda like him.
Oh, but wait! Wasn’t the whole thing a shoe commercial? Which means it’s meant to sell shoes. So… Nike of Lebron does, in fact, care what we think of Lebron James. They were using reverse shoe psychology on us! Those clever Just Doers.
I: NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU CARE (you were just here)