LeBron's chasing celebrity, not titles

Published Jul. 9, 2010 1:00 a.m. ET

This was Tiger Woods II, a wounded child star revealing the toll of celebrity and brand-building on his character, decision-making and self-awareness.

As of right now, we have no clue if we’ll ever again see the old Tiger Woods, the ruthless, lethal golfer eclipsing Jack Nicklaus. Thanksgiving ’09 damaged that Tiger.

The Summer of ’10 may have done irreparable damage to LeBron James.

Thursday night, his LeBrontourage and ESPN enablers dressed him in a clown suit, topped it with a black hat and turned him into a buffoonish laughingstock and villain.

Will he recover?

For seven years, James seemed to delight in, court and fuel himself with universal adoration and respect. It’s gone now, and it’s not coming back. He’s a hero in Miami, a coward in New York, a spoiled, narcissistic punk most everywhere else and Black Modell in Ohio.

Cavs fans burned his jersey in the streets. Police protected his house in Akron and a giant “Witness” banner in downtown Cleveland.


Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert eviscerated LeBron’s reputation, telling The Associated Press that James quit in the playoffs and wouldn’t return phone calls or text messages for more than a month, and he described James’ televised reality-show exit self-promotional and cowardly.

Maybe LeBron wants to be the NBA’s Bad Boy, a mix of Allen Iverson, Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer. Maybe the venom directed LeBron’s way will motivate him, mature his competitive focus.

Or maybe he’ll melt.

Tiger looks guilt-ridden and less confident since his flaws were exposed, since his initial prisoner-of-war press conference turned him into Jay Leno and David Letterman fodder.

“The Decision,” LeBron’s emotion-free, lovemaking session with Jim Gray, Stu Scott, Mike Wilbon, Jon Barry and Chris Broussard, is something sports fans will never forget.

It was America’s first all-male, PG-13 celebrity sex tape.

The problem is, LeBron’s handlers failed to warn him that sex tapes enhance the careers of female celebrities. The men, unless strapped like Tommy Lee and performing opposite Pamela Anderson, don’t get much bounce, or they’re ridiculed.

“I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James,” King James told Wilbon. “What LeBron James was going to do to make him happy.”

Yep, his most memorable speaking line from LeDecision was delivered in third person. He’s a joke, and only the insanely dishonest will defend his performance and the decision to host LeBron-apalooza.

LeBron and Maverick Carter, the King’s right-hand man, actually thought a $2.5 million check to the Boys and Girls Club and online scholarships to the University of Phoenix would clean up this mess, would ease the pain in his hometown.

Can LeBron handle the mental abuse he’s about to endure? Will being reviled energize him the way being revered did?

You can’t effectively fly insulting banners over NBA arenas, but you sure as hell can heckle and taunt with signs. The abuse some would like to heap on Tiger Woods on the golf course, they’ll be free to unload on the new, tattooed poster child for athletic self-indulgence and narcissism.

Tiger operates in a PGA-fortified cocoon. LeBron works in the NBA’s boiling pot, ground zero for the culture war between hip-hop values and corporate sponsorship.

He’s a target now. The preening and dancing and powder-throwing have a stench, a B.O., as in Bron Owens, the NBA’s Terrell Owens.

Where was Nike? Why didn’t Phil Knight put a stop to this, get James to comprehend the risks?

No one cares about LeBron giving the advertising dollars from “The Decision” to the Boys and Girls Club. James would’ve been better served cutting a personal check to a Cleveland/Akron charity and informing the Cavs he was leaving immediately after the playoffs.

It appears Dan Gilbert is irate because he realizes LeBron made LeDecision long ago. This whole spectacle was a gigantic tease, a charade. The Cavs‘ offseason approach (draft, free agency, Mike Brown, Danny Ferry) might have been dramatically different had the organization known from the get-go James was leaving.

LeBron owed Gilbert and Cavs fans a heads-up.

“I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James,” he said. “What LeBron James was going to do to make him happy.”

When James announced his decision, he didn’t say he was joining Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat. LeBron said he was going to South Beach.

He’s Tiger Woods, chasing a childhood celebrity stole. LeBrand, Maverick, Drama and Turtle are headed to South Beach to party with D. Wade and CB4.

There’ll be more new baby-mamas than championships.

E-mail Jason or follow him on Twitter. Media requests for Mr. Whitlock should be directed to Fox Sports PR.