The Grio — By Marcus Vanderberg — Nearly three months ago, LeBron James made a decision that changed the way all of us — from sports fans to the media — view the two-time reigning NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
One way or the other, we all had an opinion on James, who has dazzled on the court since his rookie season in 2003. Whether you thought he was better than Kobe Bryant or desperately in need of help while a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, you would be hard pressed to find someone outside of your typical hater who said they hated James.
Little did James or associate Maverick Carter know the backlash waiting for them when they bought an hour of airtime on ESPN, the self-declared worldwide leader in sports, to announce where the 25-year-old free agent would be playing in the fall.
When James ultimately decided to “take his talents” to South Beach to join the Miami Heat, the criticism in the following days and weeks had a hint of racism.
Yes, the dreaded “r-word.”
CNN’s Soledad O’Brien asked James in an interview that aired Wednesday if race had a factor in the negative headlines his decision generated.
“I think so at times,” James said. “It’s always, you know, a race factor.”
Before you think James is calling for the National Rainbow Coalition, he’s saying that race was only a factor — not the entire factor behind the backlash.
I’ll be the first person to tell you that ultimately James is responsible for his public image crumbling this summer. “The Decision,” while a ratings winner for ESPN, was a public relations nightmare. James came off as arrogant and it appeared the Boys and Girls Club donation (which came from the advertising proceeds) was just a way to justify hijacking an hour of television time.
When LeBron looks back five years from now, he will be mature enough to see the mistakes he made in the free agent process ranging from alienating an entire city by not informing Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert of his free agency plans to saying the now infamous line, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.”
Carter, the CEO of LRMR Marketing and Branding and James’ manager, admitted in the same story to O’Brien that the process could have been handled better.
“The execution could have been a little better and I take some of the blame for that,” Carter said.
The displeasure around “The Decision” was felt almost immediately.
Last month, The Q Scores Company released their list of the top 10 most disliked sports personalities. James ranked sixth on the list behind Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco and Kobe Bryant.
When the general population was polled in January, 24 people of people thought of James in a positive light while 22 percent had a negative opinion.
Following “The Decision,” 14 percent of people thought of James in a positive light while 39 percent had a negative opinion.