Playing race card won’t help LeBron

As if on cue, LeBron James and his dunce of a marketing agent have proclaimed that his plummeting Q Scores have something to do with race.

“It’s always, you know, a race factor,” the noted sociologist/sneaker salesman himself told CNN interviewer Soledad O’Brien.

“It definitely played a role in some of the stuff coming out of the media, things that were written for sure,” said Maverick Carter, the rising star who conceived of “The Decision.”

Carter was a 22-year-old college dropout when James gave him a gig as CEO of something called LRMR Marketing and Branding. Neither the title, nor the intervening years, nor his audiences with such luminaries as Warren Buffet and Jay-Z, have taught Carter a thing. In fact, he may have gotten stupider. Or perhaps, just more cynical.

Race had a role? Stories and columns were race-based, or somehow racist?

Again: “For sure.”

For real?

Prove it. Go ahead. Show me. Show the world. Which things that were written? By whom? Why? How are they about race?

You want to bring race into this? Fine. Just the same, introducing it at this point in the story – and now I can’t help but wonder how long before someone invokes the “million dollar slave” cliché? – obligates James and Carter to provide a bill of particulars.

Short of that improbable development, the theme of this story doesn’t change. It only intensifies. Now more than ever, this is about arrogance, or rather, a particular form of hubris found in rich, young stars.

You see it in entertainment. You see it in sports. You see it, of course, in every race, creed and color. The problem is fame and wealth of a degree that leaves a young person hopelessly out of touch. It happened to Mike Tyson. It happened to Lindsey Lohan. It’s happening to LeBron James.

I’m not arguing that James will end up in jail or rehab. I can’t imagine he has those kinds of pathologies in him. Besides, there are too many people and corporations with huge financial stakes in keeping him on the court. Just the same, he’s lost touch.

“The Decision” instantaneously transformed him into a bad guy. Now, the more he tries to justify it, the more the trouble he causes himself. He doesn’t like playing the heel, but he can’t stop.
The introduction of race is merely the latest and crudest attempt to deflect the greatest backlash in American sports. Pretty much everyone but James and Carter could see it coming, a reaction in proportion to the hype.

I don’t know of anyone – certainly no one outside Ohio – who had a real beef with James leaving the Cavaliers or exercising his rights as a free agent. But don’t play hometown hero, and expect people to applaud when you leave. And don’t jerk them around.

LeBron James is a great talent, unlike any the game has ever seen. But he was sold as more than that, more than a mere ballplayer. Companies like State Farm and Nike and McDonalds didn’t sign him because of race. They signed him, in part, because he was so symbolically potent: the anti-Kobe (hah!), the kid who stayed at home, the savior of rusted-out Cleveland.

There was another element never before seen: the commerce and the narrative became inextricably intertwined. As it pertained to LeBron James, there wasn’t much difference between the journalism and the promotion. Even the as-told-to bios and the hokey documentaries – it all sounded like advertising scripts that referred to a kid from Akron as King James.

So maybe it was inevitable he lost touch.

Still, he should’ve been smart enough – or at least, sufficiently media savvy – to steer clear of race.
He left his hometown team in Cleveland to become one of basketball’s “Superfriends” in Miami.
Michael Jordan wouldn’t have done it. Ditto Charles Barkley. And Magic Johnson, too.

What they said, was it about race?

Going into training camp, fans again became curious about the basketball element here. But in a series of boneheaded interviews this week, James has effectively produced a sequel to the “The Decision.”

If only someone had told him to shut up.

Then again, what do you expect from the CEO of LRMR Marketing and Branding?