LeBron's Nike ad: Just do ... whatever

BY Jason Whitlock • October 25, 2010

Let’s call them “Lucky Nike.” And let’s assume that Mad Men’s Don Draper and Peggy Olson created the shoe company’s new ad campaign repositioning star pitchman LeBron James.

It’s good work. James is self-deprecating without being remorseful. He’s feisty toward and humorous at the expense of Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley without being remotely disrespectful. He’s vulnerable and transparent without sacrificing a drop of street cred.

It’s a wonderful 90-second TV commercial. I’m sure Tiger Woods is jealous and wondering why Draper and Olson didn’t come up with something as clever to repair his bimbo-damaged image.

Whatever, at the end of the day, it’s still Lucky Nike, the cigarette butt of shoe companies, the values/ethics-optional shoe brand that has told kids to “Just Do It” for two decades.

LeBron digested the slogan.

Again, I like the commercial. It’s honest and irreverent and rebellious and immature. It’s a reflection of James.

What it’s not is courageous.

Nike, a major American corporation, does not encourage, reward or celebrate courage. Michael Jordan has been the company’s greatest pitchman because he purposely avoided standing for anything away from the basketball court.

It would’ve taken real courage for James to look into a camera and admit that his exit from Cleveland lacked the appropriate amount of grace and respect given the lifelong adoration and support Ohio lauded on James.

Instead, the commercial ends with a copout:

“Should I be who you want me to be?” James asks as he is shown flying toward the rim.

“Just Do It” flashes across the screen, answering LeBron’s rhetorical question.

That’s the overriding message from the commercial, a message that Nike’s Don Draper and Peggy Olson know America’s youth will gobble up.

Any action, no matter how irresponsible, selfish or disrespectful, can be rationalized by “I’m being who I want to be, not who you want me to be.”

James told us during The Decision that he had to do what was best for LeBron James. His reaction to the backlash from The Decision has illustrated just how much he believes in that philosophy. He has basically said that while doing what is best for James, he has every right to do it in a way that solely pleasures LeBron James.

It’s a corporate mentality, perfect for this era when the average American believes big business and an embrace of corporate values will save America. We think capitalism is more important than democracy.

James is a brand, a commodity to be packaged and sold. He’s a business. Lucky Strike is/was unconcerned with the damage done by tobacco smoke. You think Lucky Nike and James care about hurting the people of Cleveland?

“What should I do?” is the constant refrain heard in James’ commercial.

“Should I admit that I’ve made mistakes?” James asks at the outset.

Of course, he should. It would be a sign of strength. In the corporate world, admitting a mistake is a sign of weakness.

“Should I stop listening to my friends?" James asks.

“They’re my friends,” he answers.

James is young and a bit clueless, which should be expected given his age, upbringing, wealth, fame and NBA environment. He interprets listening to his friends as a sign of loyalty. It can be a sign of stupidity.

Ten years ago, my best friend talked me into one of the dumbest decisions of my life, a decision that still haunts to this day. It involved a choice between two women. I’ll spare you the details, but the facts are so damning that you could question my sanity.

My best friend’s advice and peer pressure were well-intentioned but immature and irrational. He gave me the same logic he used in selecting the wife he would eventually divorce and never respect.

People don’t know what they don’t know, and they die a thousand deaths from what they don’t know.

LeBron has no idea he’s become LeBrand. He thinks he’s a freedom fighter slaying Twitter bigots and beating back the corrosive forces of racism.

“Everybody thinks it’s a bed of roses, and it’s not,” James said last week after sharing harsh, disrespectful tweets directed at him.

Rude tweets, regardless of content, are idiocy. Racism is an American drug war that locks up black and brown poor people at a record pace. Racism is black people using their political clout to force a prosecutor to go after white college athletes solely on the flimsy word of a black escort.

I’m not defending anyone’s right to hurl racial and ethnic slurs. But Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t die over words. He died fighting racism, race-based actions that limit freedom and inhibit a person’s pursuit of happiness.

Or maybe the people tweeting LeBron share his philosophy. Maybe they don’t want to be who we want them to be, either. Maybe they Just Do It.