HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If you ask LeBron James, 2011 seems so … two days ago.
Longer than that, actually, for the most publicly prosecuted player in the NBA, someone who endured constant fan abuse despite not committing a crime or being a menace to society. Plenty has happened since, all for the good according to LeBron, who ushered in the New Year by announcing his engagement to his long-time girlfriend, Savannah Brinson. The couple has two children together.
Of course, even this will bring out the skeptics as Israel Gutierrez of the Miami Herald mentions. Such is life for LeBron in the wake of “The Decision” and a few other public stumbles. Anything he does, even if it seems heartfelt, will be dismissed as a staged production by someone desperate to make the public think he’s a changed man, if only to get more endorsements in his pocket and the boos off his back.
His commercials with State Farm and McDonald’s and even Nike have a community relations flavor to them, where LeBron is seen helping kids or stressing education. He’s pushing his charitable foundation and making contributions to other causes. It’s all part of LeBron getting back to his “old self” as he said, all part of LeBron living up to his preseason pledge, when he said:
“For me personally, I’m a totally different person than last year. I’m just back to loving the game of basketball, not taking too much for granted, playing with a smile on my face and just understanding I’m just a kid from Akron, Ohio, in the NBA. I lost that last year.”
Anything LeBron does probably won’t change anyone’s opinion of him. Those who aren’t his fans will keep viewing him as self-absorbed. Those who are his fans will cheer. And those on the fence will stay on the fence, because they don’t bother with an emotional investment in LeBron or any other professional athlete, one way or another. So it’s probably best that LeBron change his image — sorry, to get back to his old self — for himself.
Plus, the public at large is and should be more concerned with performance and results. That’s because nobody really knows any professional athlete on a personal or any other level. These athletes are blessed with talent (sharpened through hard work) and draw millions of admirers and lots of media but are total strangers. And in terms of importance in our lives, they rank far behind the mailman, the dentist and the school teacher. You know, people who actually come in direct contact with us. That’s why it’s crazy when fans are “shocked” over behavior or a personal choice by an athlete they thought was a “good guy.” Well, you didn’t know who that “guy” really was in the first place.
The best way LeBron can change perception is by showing up in the fourth quarter in June, and that’s several months away, if the Heat are fortunate enough to keep a strong season going that far. If he helps Miami win a championship, those who love him will love him more, those who don’t won’t care. But at least there will be a consensus reached about him as a player. Which is what counts, anyway.