I don't want to get too sports-heavy here, but anyone who follows basketball probably has an opinion on the LeBron James saga. Regardless of what you think about his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami, and what you think about the subsequent fan reaction to it, I think we can probably all admit that this was not the best response.
I'm sure LeBron felt stung by the reaction he got upon leaving Cleveland. He no doubt felt that he had done all he could there - in 2007, he dragged the team to a spot in the Finals almost singlehandedly, and won 60+ games in each of the last two years with improved but hardly championship-caliber teammates.
But this ad just comes off as whiny and petulant. LeBron recently gave a statement in which he said that he could understand why Cleveland fans were upset - that's good, if months late. But really this, this post I'm making, isn't about what he's said in the media. It's about this ad, in particular, lest we get off-topic here. And this ad is stupid.
It's stupid for the same reason the Charles Barkley ad that James quotes - the "I am not a role model" one - was also kind of stupid. While I appreciate Barkley's point on some levels, the fact is that he's appearing in a commercial when he says it. He's a paid endorser of a product. And the whole point of paying an athlete to endorse your product is to trade on said athlete's fame and, yes, their position as a role model to sell that product. Barkley may genuinely not have wanted to be a role model, but Nike made him one anyway.
And the same thing is happening here. James, via Nike, was marketed as little short of the Second Coming in Cleveland. Don't believe me?
Yikes. To be fair, that ad doesn't actually mention Cleveland, but you get the point. You can see the huge size of the "We are all witnesses" banner that falls in the ad at the top. James was pitched as nothing less than the savior of basketball in Cleveland. And so when he left - when he decided, perhaps, that basketball in Cleveland was beyond saving, that he'd given it his best shot but now that he had more of a choice he was happy to go play in a nicer city with some friends of his on a better team, thanks - he was vilified by people who felt betrayed.
Should they have felt betrayed by LeBron? Maybe, maybe not. But this ad trades on mocking and/or complaining about that sense of betrayal, and it's a betrayal that was stoked by Nike itself.
Not a role model? Uh, hardly. This ad portrays James as the ultimate role model, one capable of affecting the entire population with his behavior.
"Should I be who you want me to be?" James asks, with more than a hint of sarcasm, in the latest ad. The obvious answer is no; LeBron James, like anyone else, can be whoever he wants to be. But as a man whose job, even as he speaks those words, is to pitch sneakers to teenagers... well, the answer is kind of yes. If you want to be a multimillionaire pitchman, you have to put on a face that the public will appreciate. It comes with the territory. LeBron James the basketball star and LeBron James the Nike spokesman are not separate entities. LeBron James the Nike spokesman is most definitely a role model - or anyway, he is in the eyes of Nike, because if he weren't he would be of no value to them. And if LeBron James the Nike spokesman is a role model, LeBron James the basketball star is a role model. And if he wants both of those personas to exist, fully functioning, as beloved as they are capable of being and not loathed by a spurned fanbase... well, then, yes, LeBron. You have to be who we want you to be.
And if you don't want to be? That's cool too. Just don't run back to Nike to make an ad about how none of it is your fault. I don't think you're going to sell too many shoes that way.