By Ann Liguori
LeBron James knows he must attempt to rebuild his reputation after the way he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. I’m not condemning him for his decision to leave Cleveland. As a free agent, a player has the right to go to the team he feels he can win with. But the way he went about it could have been handled a lot better. Yes, Cavaliers fans would have still been disappointed but had James done the right thing, and talked to the Cavs first before going public with that ridiculous prime-time ‘Decision’ show, he would not be ‘enemy number one’ in northeastern Ohio and his image would not have taken the hit that it has.
So in an attempt to save face, James has taken out a full-page ad in the Akron Beacon Journal, his hometown newspaper, in which he thanks his fans there for supporting him though the years. It does not mention the words ‘Cleveland Cavaliers.’ The ad focuses on his community service in Akron and reads: “Akron is my home, and the central focus of my life. It’s where I started, and it’s where I will always come back to. You can be sure that I will continue to do everything I can for this city, which is so important to my family and me. Thank you for your love and support. You mean everything to me.”
After seven years of playing for his hometown fans and earning the nickname ‘King James,’ where he meant everything to that franchise and where they gave him everything right back, James knows now that he must work on repairing his image after his classless exit.
The prime-time show ‘Decision,’ created solely for ratings and to milk advertisers was such a conflict of interest that even the network’s executives apologized and realized what a stupid decision it was to create and air the show. And hearing the announcer say, ‘We’ll be right back with King James’ decision right after this,’ about five times before it actually happened, made it even more difficult to watch. And then when interviewer Jim Gray finally came on screen with LeBron, it took Jim about 14 questions before he asked the only question anyone wanted to hear. The whole thing was as distasteful and contrived as could be.
Now I can’t just criticize LeBron and ESPN here. All the parties involved showed poor judgement, from the way Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert responded with his scathing letter about LeBron to the way the Miami Heat introduced the ‘Three Kings,’ as if James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, who descended from the heavens amongst clouds of smoke, being portrayed as religious icons as if they will ‘save’ the franchise, and the planet for that matter. As a sports fan, I just cringed. All sides of this emphasized the ugly elements that have crept into the business for many years now – greed, win at all costs, putting these athletes on a pedestal as if they are God-like, unsportsmanlike and classless behavior.
I’m not sure if a full-page ad in a newspaper can repair the damage to LeBron’s image caused by the way he chose to leave Cleveland. Instead of being praised in his hometown for any success he may earn throughout the rest of his career in the NBA, fans there will always feel as if he quit on them. They say ‘home is where your heart is’ but after driving a stake in the hearts of fans who live in Cleveland and Akron, which is just south of Cleveland, with his tacky departure, LeBron’s home may never be quite the same to him or the way he remembers it.