The advertisement came at you like flood waters in October, with the start of the NBA season. The water was supposed to stay high all the way through Christmas, so you would buy Nikes, so your basketball interest would stay buoyed through to Dec. 20 (when your Mavericks play at Miami) and so most of all, you would buy LeBron.
You have seen it, right? No political ad has been slicker. No “Saturday Night Live’’ short has been hipper. If its goal is to cause James’ critics to reconsider their summer-long spitting of venom and to re-embrace him – in the Christmas spirit — LeBron “Rise’’ is in the process of working.
And it comes with a catchphrase. In what is obviously designed to become a pop-culture meme, the ad features King James repeating the phrase, “What Should I Do?” The question is not only rhetorical; it’s also dripping in smartassedness. LeBron doesn’t really care about your criticism … or rather the LeBron character manufactured here by Nike doesn’t care.
But he’s asking the question. So I’ll take seriously a young man who calls himself “King James.”
What Should You Do?
LeBron, as my Christmas gift to you, I will tell you what you should do.
You ask if you should admit to being a championship-chaser.
What Should You Do? Yes. You should admit to that non-crime. And you should explain that everyone in professional sports should be a championship-chaser. Playing for the “hometown team’’ makes for a warm story. But that’s High-School Harry stuff. This is a business. Isn’t that how you feel?
Then you should admit that.
Dirk Nowitzki is chasing a championship, too, right? He chose to chase his with the franchise that’s supported him for 12 years, in his American hometown, so he’s different from you … but he’s still chasing.
In the commercial, you ask if you should “stick to selling shoes.’’
What Should You Do? This is the only note in the Nike spot that makes it seem tone-deaf. Nowadays, not even Nike – a SHOE COMPANY – just “sells shoes.’’
Nike sells emotion. And in this spot, so does LeBron.
So, no LeBron, your job is not to sell shoes (though Nike obviously enjoys seeing those familiar rectangular packages nestled under America’s living-room trees). Your job is to get the audience to see you as a protagonist, to earn sympathy from the audience, to re-create yourself as heroic …
Wait a minute. What the hell am I talking about?
Isn’t your job to play basketball?
You ask if you should emulate your critic Charles Barkley by announcing you’re not a role model.
What Should You Do? Yes and no. That pronouncement would be seen as hypocritical coming from you. But here’s where you should emulate Barkley: Chuck truly seems to be secure enough in his own tightly-stretched skin to be self-effacing and to be honest and to be almost uncaring when it comes to his critics. But you, LeBron – speaking of hypocrisy – cannot get away with pretending you don’t care what we all think. You can act in this mini-movie and recite lines like “Hi, Chuck!’’ and perform business like chomping on a donut in an effort to appear “above it all,’’ as if you are like Barkley.
This campaign, in fact, demonstrates clearly how desperate you are to rehab your image, to be
re-embraced, to be loved. Otherwise – if you really don’t care about having your feelings hurt – why bother? The spot is attractive. The desperation is sad.
In the commercial, LeBron, you ask if you should quit listening to the advice of your friends.
What Should You Do? Yes. Hell yes. You are unwise to let 25-year-old high-school buddies manage your career. If you’d taken this advice five months ago, you wouldn’t have had to go to Nike to film an image-remaking commercial. Do I listen to my buddies, LeBron? Yessir. I listen to my buddy the plumber to fix my toilet and I listen to my buddy the CPA to do my taxes. But if my plumber or my CPA ever shows up at my door wearing a $25,000 necklace created as a tribute to my torso, I will be tempted to buy a plunger and a calculator and do stuff myself.
You ask if we want him to “simply just disappear.’’
What Should You Do? This sounds like pouting. Like a preschooler who threatens to run away from his parents because they made him eat his lima beans. Now, you could’ve “just disappeared’’ from my screen that night you decided to turn “The Decision’’ into a clownish television melodrama. And you could’ve found a way to graciously exit your home state – because to them, you HAVE “simply disappeared.’’
But no, you oversized child, you needn’t “simply just disappear.’’ On Dec. 20, a skillion TV sets will be tuned to your meeting with our Mavs. We will be watching, we will be entertained, and we will be hoping the Mavs push you into a temporary “disappearance’’ by beating you. Now go eat your lima beans.
In the commercial, you ask if you should consider that you’ve ruined his legacy.
What Should You Do? No. If you win, young man – if you win big in Miami, as so many expect you to – that will be your legacy. “Three championships in five years,’’ that’s what most of the experts at ESPN keep telling me. There are other things I would’ve suggested you do. I would’ve told you to get your mom another hobby–knitting or something. I would’ve instructed you to more smoothly put down the groundwork for your departure from Cleveland without petulantly quitting before that final playoff game was even over – “smoothly’’ including not removing your Cavs jersey and throwing it to the floor in a symbolic act. I would’ve urged you to try to keep the Cleveland owner as nothing more than a disappointed suitor instead of a Comic Sans attacker. And personally, I think you should’ve come to Dallas and visited with Cuban and Kidd and Dirk, too. But I know I’m just being selfish there. So I don’t need you to tell me that.
Anyway… it’s about winning. You must know this. And if you do not know this, Nike’s got your back. They understand. The geniuses at Nike NEVER worry about the legacies of Tiger Woods or Brett Favre or Michael Jordan or Big Ben or Kobe Bryant or anybody else who might fall into public disfavor.
Because the geniuses at Nike know that they can always fix that…with slickness and hipness and a zeitgeist-manipulating TV commercial.
In the commercial, LeBron, you ask if you should get your “Chosen 1″ tattoo removed.
What Should You Do? No. There is no point in undergoing the pain of the removal of a massive tattoo. You should, however, over this Christmas holiday, consider a re-evaluation of the ego that would have caused you to identify yourself with Jesus Christ’s nickname.
Mike Fisher covers the Mavs for www.FOXSportsSouthwest.com and at DallasBasketball.com <http://www.dallasbasketball.com/home_display.php> . Follow The Fish and the Mavs at twitter.com/fishsports <http://twitter.com/fishsports>