Basketball

LeBron's friends might be his worst enemies

Dwyane Wade, left, Chris Bosh and LeBron James wasted no time marketing their new brand in Miami on Friday.
Dwyane Wade, left, Chris Bosh and LeBron James wasted no time marketing their new brand in Miami on Friday. AP

The people that put LeBron James up to that televised one-hour exercise in ego Thursday night on ESPN?

Those are John Calipari's people.

Let's hope they're not giving Calipari the same advice.

Or Calipari has the good sense to veto it.

LeBron James obviously did not. You can argue whether the Chosen One made the correct basketball decision Thursday, forsaking his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on "South Beach," as James put it, to chase a championship with the Miami Heat.

What is inarguable is that from the middle of this year's NBA playoffs through the Thursday night conclusion of the free agent festival, the shine has left King James' crown.

As Chicago TV personality Sarah Spain put it Thursday night on Twitter, "Besides Tiger Woods, has anyone fallen out of favor w/public as quickly as LeBron w/out doing something illegal?"

Or as Late Show with David Letterman head writer Eric Stangel tweeted, "I'm keeping my 2 yr old up to watch LeBron James Special. I want her to see the exact moment our society hit rock bottom."

The ill will had not so much to do with James changing teams, as it did with James changing personas. He went from the gifted, likable kid from Ohio to a self-absorbed media monster who commands an hour of prime-time cable television for a self celebration.

And, boy, what an hour. There were all the usual suspects — the insufferable, too-cool-for-school Stuart Scott, the former journalist Michael Wilbon. There was Jim Gray doing the pillow-soft interview, while being paid by LeBron's entourage, according to Darren Rovell of CNBC. Gray denies he was paid by James.

Yes, LeBron staged the announcement at a Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn., and donated more than $2 million to the charity. Yet the event was so narcissistic, even that gesture felt over-the-top.

As ESPN's army of apologists keeps pointing out, The Decision show drew a huge audience. But LeBron's personal no-show in Game 5 of that Boston-Cleveland playoff series drew nice TV ratings, too. What did that do for James' popularity numbers?

So who's grand idea was the Thursday night show? Maverick Carter, LeBron's manager? Leon Rose, LeBron's agent? William "World Wide Wes" Wesley, LeBron's friend and adviser, who is also close with Calipari? Same for Rose.

Most say Carter, the 29-year-old in charge of the LeBron brand. Considering the missteps of the past couple of months, however, some wonder whether James is more concerned with his commercial entities than with his on-the-court success. He seemed more interested in schmoozing with Jay-Z than perfecting his J. And, in the end, marketing was at the meat of The Decision.

James could have stayed with the Cavaliers to finish the job of bringing Cleveland a title. He could have defected to New York to revive that once-proud NBA franchise. He could have joined Chicago to mentor the Bulls' young studs, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Those options would have earned respect through the required sweat.

Instead, James chose the easier alternative. He joins Wade and Bosh for a made-to-order championship. The Three Amigos and all that. Marketing mania. James shares the stage, gets a ring. To enhance his brand, he needs that ring.

But there was one other attention-grabbing tweet during Thursday night's show, from Rush the Court: "I guarantee you, Kobe is in the gym right now."

Plus, LeBron might need several rings to overcome the damage done by Thursday's self-soak. While he might once again be the NBA's biggest draw next season, many will be watching for a different reason.

They'll be rooting for LeBron to lose.

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