Friday, October 1, 2010

LeBron James: Quieting His Critics by Holding Them Accountable

Now that’s how you quiet an angry mob!

It didn’t take a championship. It didn’t take a highlight reel of brilliant plays. Hell, it didn’t even take a victory in a preseason game.

LeBron James has quieted his critics.

Now, I don’t know that any of them have had a change of heart and are now on his side, but they’re certainly going to be a lot less vocal.

During an interview on CNN Wednesday night, Soledad O’Brien asked both LeBron James and his now-famous (infamous?) adviser Maverick Carter if they believe that race has played a role in avalanche of negativity that James has faced in the aftermath of his “decision” to join the Heat, which he announced in an prime time, hour-long abomination on ESPN.

When faced with the question, LeBron answered, more accurately than our country would like to admit, “I think so at times. It's always, you know, a race factor.”

Now, I must admit, when I first saw a headline reading “LeBron blames race for backlash to ESPN's The Decision,” my reaction was a visceral “Oh puh-lease! Now he’s playing the race card? Gimme a break!"

Then I thought about it a bit. I read a transcript of the interview. The whole matter is addressed in three sentences: the question from O’Brien, and one sentence each from James and Carter. I then read a well-written article on the matter, and subsequently engaged in (electronic) conversation with the author. At one point, I responded to the author with a rather lengthy comment (upon which this article is based) in which I talked out what I think took place.

First let’s get some things out of the way. Do I think LeBron and Maverick Carter answered the question honestly? Yes, I do.

Do I think he played the race card? Honestly, I don’t. The guy didn’t say anything that was particularly inflammatory, although he may have stated a truth that a healthy chunk of this country is not comfortable with.

Do I think race played a role in some people’s negative reaction to LeBron’s decision? Like I said, probably a lot more than this country is eager to admit.

The question was posed to LeBron, asking for his opinion, which he gave. I get that. Thing is, there’s nothing wrong with either asking the question or the response that followed. With even a tiny bit of time and perspective after the interview, one thing becomes abundantly clear—this was not a spontaneous, off-the-cuff conversation in which LeBron ran his mouth unnecessarily. This smacks of a blatant PR ploy.

And potentially a PR coup.

I may be way off, but please allow me to take a leap here. Very seldom are these "primetime sitdowns" on major networks overly spontaneous. Thus, I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to believe that LeBron James and his camp did not have some idea as to the possible lines of questioning that O’Brien might pursue in the interview.

So, with that said, I see LeBron’s response to questions of race not a way of addressing the negativity that he’s faced since July, but as a way of muting it.

In fairness to Team LeBron, in the same interview they acknowledged that "The Decision" was poorly handled (glad their team of analysts only need 10 weeks to get to the bottom of that!). In doing so, and by bringing the issue of race into this story in any capacity whatsoever, Team LeBron has removed all the upside to LeBron-bashing for certain mainstream media members.

Going forward, any time Skip Bayless or any other white talking head smacks LeBron around, they will not do so without their own risk of backlash. They will now be accountable for their own words.

Are they hating on LeBron because they think he's a loser and a douche? Or are they part of that segment of White America that hates to see a young black man with any real power?

From a PR perspective, as bad as a decision as “The Decision” was, this was every bit as inspired. Nothing short of brilliant.

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