The LeBron Conundrum

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Like a precariously-placed box, about to tumble, or a car skidding across ice, there are some things the human eye can’t help but watch, even though the outcome may already be known.

In the NBA, one major source of such theatre concerns LeBron James. The Cavaliers’ star has certainly carved out a memorable career on the hardwood, but his off-court existence has been fraught with constant drama, off of it.

This week’s episode featured a public spat between King James and television-personality, Charles Barkley. It began with the latter’s latest, on-air assault on James competitive moxie – calling him a whiny pansy, in so many words.

As a four-time MVP and three-time champion, James is in a rare, pantheon of athletes: the kind that, if he retired today, he would still go down as an all-time great.

During his own playing career, Barkley won an MVP (1993) but never sipped championship champagne. He will never be mentioned in the same, rarified-company LeBron will someday hold.

But instead of laughing off the criticism, James quickly returned fire. He issued a long-winded and eye-roll-inducing history lesson detailing Sir Charles’, often-colorful past point-by-point.

One could argue that the detailed response accomplished little other than to add another notch in favor of Barkley’s original argument. The fact that he allowed Barkley to get under his skin highlights James’ insecurities in the context of his legacy.

It can be argued that no one has ever been more conscious of his own legacy than LeBron. He has worked to maintain a well-manicured and vanilla image that has netted him lucrative business and sponsorship opportunities.

Everything he does, from his Nike commercials to appearing in the 2015 film, “Trainwreck”, is done with an eye towards expanding his brand as a global icon.

He puts a lot of work into this image and seems to be perturbed by attempts to poke holes in the webbing.

In that sense, he is linked to a more-ignominious pantheon that includes disgraced, baseball star, Alex Rodriguez.  Like A-Rod, James is concerned not only with his words, but how it will be perceived…AND, how people will perceive the way that he said it.

It’s as if James never learned the old, playground adage: sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me. It makes him come off as somewhat of a ninny. That, combined with the notion that he requires a king’s ransom of talent on board to win titles will be enough to sink his rank on the all-time list for many.

Not everyone is wired with the effusive-confidence to let bullies’ words slide. Still, as someone so plugged into his own image, he should know better than to take the bait.

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