LeBron James Is Acting Like a Baby, Nike Like Goons
Posted Jul 10, 2009
If LeBron James dares to venture online and see himself scorched by the masses, he might as well do some instructive Web-surfing, too. I suggest he call up a dubious Michael Jordan clip on YouTube, where a certain John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Investments, beats him in a one-on-one game at his "Flight School" basketball camp. What's funny is how Jordan opens with trash-talk -- "Don't be mad at me. I'm just too good for you," -- only to be schooled on three driving, twisting layups.
And how did the Greatest Player Ever respond to this professional embarrassment, which he knew was being taped? Oh, by hugging and congratulating Rogers, then willingly absorbing verbal abuse from comedian Damon Wayans while the other campers howled.
Wayans: "How do you feel about being humiliated in the game?"
Jordan: "You get dunked on, you get crossed-over. It all happens."
Wayans: "But at your own camp?"
Wayans, pointing to a portrait of Jordan hanging in the gym: "Take that picture down and put up Rogers right there!"
Consider it Exhibit A of how LeBron should have responded when he was dunked on in a pickup game at his own camp -- a two-handed hammer by Xavier sophomore Jordan Crawford over a leaping, late-arriving James. It was a perfect opportunity for LeBron to humanize himself and have fun with the "indignity,'' just as MJ had at his camp. He could have congratulated Crawford, taken him over to the two videographers who had captured the dunk and done, say, a makeshift interview that could have been part of a creative Nike promotional campaign. Think of the eventual possibilities: a Jordan Crawford shoe for the LeBron brand marketed and downpriced for Everyman, with James and Crawford starring in a clever Nike commercial.
Instead, James acted like a baby, much as he did when he sulked off the court and didn't shake hands with Orlando players after he and the Cleveland Cavaliers were ousted in the Eastern Conference finals. Just having seen several college and high-school players run around the court deliriously, stunned that LeBron had been posterized by a collegian, James summoned a Nike executive named Lynn Merritt. A short time later, Merritt approached the videographers and confiscated the tapes. This reminds me of what happened to American journalists at the Beijing Olympics last summer, when Chinese authorities threatened to shut down our Internet access -- and maybe banish us to a concentration camp? -- if we were overly critical of the government.
But that was a Communist country. This is America.
And in our land of the free and home of the brave, we can't stand cover-ups by Big Business, the only way to describe the corporate censorship tactics at work. Yes, there apparently is a rule forbidding videotaping of after-hours pickup games at James' camp. But funny how no one seemed to notice the cameras until after the dunk. One of the videographers, Ryan Miller, is a freelancer trying to make a few bucks fresh out of Syracuse University. He was specifically covering the camp for ESPNU, the network's college-sports channel, and for Syracuse.com. Here was a chance for a hustling young guy to make a name for himself. But that can't be done when Nike takes the tape and burns it, or whatever the Swooshheads have done with it. And want to know the craziest thing? Miller isn't even sure he caught the dunk footage on tape.
In the end, James and Nike look much worse than if they'd simply let the dunk run its course in cyberspace. They're trying way too hard to protect LeBron's global image, which sends a message that James is more a businessman than a basketball megastar. In a weak attempt to justify the tape grab, a company spokesman said, "Nike has been operating basketball camps for the benefit of young athletes for decades and has long-standing policies as to what events are open and closed to media coverage. Unfortunately, for the first time in four years, two journalists did not respect our no videotaping policy at an after-hours pickup game following the LeBron James Skills Academy.''
OK. So tell them to shut off their cameras, period. By taking the tapes, there is only one motive: Protect The King. Shame on James for letting his wounded ego initiate the process. And shame on Nike for playing the goon role. Blessed with some of the most creative minds in sports, Nike still can save face by using the confiscated tape in an ad. That way, LeBron can look human, Crawford's thundering moment can live forever, the company can sell some shoes and Miller can get a fat check for his work.
Just do it, Nike. Just release the tape. My guess is, we'll never see it, though we might get a second round of those creepy LeBron-Kobe puppet ads.
"That's Nike and LeBron,'' Crawford said. "That's kind of over my head.''
But doesn't Crawford deserve his place in YouTube history?
"I would love my family and teammates to see it,'' he said.
Wouldn't we all love to see it? Too bad we'll have to settle for a T-shirt selling on a Web site, which says: "I DUNKED ON LeBRON (but he stole the video).''
Let me make it clear, right here and now, that LeBron James has been a model citizen and NBA ambassador in his early 20s. In a sports culture dominated by bad news -- Steve McNair murdered by a 20-year-old girlfriend, Donte Stallworth killing a man while driving drunk, more steroids, more deceit -- he has behaved himself and stayed out of legal documents and courtrooms. If the worst thing he ever does is try to cover-up a dunk and walk off a court without shaking hands, he might win a Nobel Peace Prize.
He's also a cordial, well-grounded guy who does cool commercials. This could have been his best one yet. But if we are his "witnesses'' -- the ongoing LeBron marketing theme -- it seems he only wants us to watch him on his terms.
I think a call from Michael Jordan is in order.