Nineteen months after “The Decision” sent his personal stock plummeting, LeBron James is as desperate as ever to please and still clueless on how to go about it.
So maybe the only surprise about Forbes magazine’s latest list of most-disliked athletes is that James hasn’t demanded a recount. He came in at No. 6, a dozen percentage points behind co-leaders Michael Vick and Tiger Woods, both of whom polled 60 percent. Unlike either, James finds no slight too small to ignore and has so many public feuds running at any moment that it’s hard to keep track of them all. But something James said recently is true about every one of them:
“I’m an easy target; if someone wants to get a point across — just throw Lebron’s name in there. You could be watching cartoons with your kids and you don’t like it, you say, ‘Blame it on LeBron.’ If you go to the grocery store and they don’t have the milk that you like, you just say, ‘It’s LeBron’s fault.’”
Fair point. And to be fair, he’s a model citizen as pro athletes go and all five guys who finished ahead of him on the list were guilty of actual sins:
Vick headed up a dogfighting ring and Woods ran a stable of girlfriends while pretending to be married. Jets receiver Plaxico Burress did jail time for shooting himself in the thigh, which at the time seemed like punishment enough. Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh, who four months earlier topped the Forbes’ poll of most-liked athletes, was on the fast track to becoming the NFL’s dirtiest player when he paused to stomp an opponent last season and earned a two-game suspension. Nets forward Kris Humphries married Kim Kardashian — if only for 72 hours. Even Kobe Bryant, who finished a notch below James at 45 percent, spent time in court defending himself against a rape charge that was later dropped.
Yet it’s James who winds up in the public dock all the time, and that’s because unlike everyone else on the list, he doesn’t know when to quit talking.
Not long after “The Decision,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a shrewd marketer in his own right, reckoned that James lost a billion dollars in brand equity. So naturally, LeBron doubled down. He starred in a Nike spot retracing his steps from high school and tweaking his growing legion of critics at every turn, asking over and over, “What should I do?” In hindsight, it was the beginning of a pattern.
All these squabbles later, the answer is the same now as it was then: Win a little and say even less until you do.