Posted Aug 17 2010 1:30PM
LeBron James has been mentioned in the same sentence before with some pretty famous people. Like Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Kobe Bryant and, at times over the past six weeks or so, Madonna.
But thanks to James himself, we now can place him alongside another well-known fellow American: Richard Nixon.
After all, James' message to the culture via his Twitter account, back on Aug. 10, seemed to emanate from deep within the walls of the Watergate White House, time-stamped somewhere between Woodward and Bernstein rolling up their shirtsleeves and the Commander in Chief waving his big goodbye from the steps of the helicopter:
Don't think for one minute that I haven't been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer, read James' tweet on his verified Twitter account, KingJames. And I mean everyone!
What does that sound like, if not someone feverishly at work compiling his own Nixonian enemies list? Now, we can have fun picturing James, holed up in his new $42 million Coral Gables mansion, flashing some "V" signs with both hands, acting all jowly and channeling Dan Aykroyd by way of John (Hoya Paranoia) Thompson in taking names in advance of kicking, er, butt. Back in Tricky Dick's days, there actually was a paper list of Nixon's political opponents, media threats and Hollywood liberals maintained by Presidential aides. Today, you've got to figure there's an app for that. The idea was to use governmental machinery -- think tax audits -- to punish Nixon's foes.
But LeBron James mentally making an enemies list? Really?
Remember who we're talking about here: James is one of the most gifted and fortunate persons on the face of the Earth. He has been shown almost nothing but love, respect and enthusiasm since back in his high school days, right through his selection as the no-brainer No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. He logged seven season with what essentially was his hometown team, a kid from Akron giving to and getting back from the Cleveland Cavaliers enough that, if a lightning bolt found him tomorrow, he'd wind up in the Hall of Fame, championship rings be darned.
James has a new $110 million contract, staggering riches already banked, lucrative endorsement deals, happy and healthy kids, heavyweight pals (from Warren Buffet to Jay-Z) and did we mention that $42 million oceanfront home? Also, don't forget that when this summer began, James was almost universally admired, one of the rare pro athletes who heard cheers both at home and on the road. That has changed now -- one NBA stop in particular figures to be brutal on Dec. 2 and March 29 -- but not to the point where the league's most talented and versatile player has to respond in kind.
Chris Bosh, one of James' many new teammates with the Miami Heat, talked in a recent ESPN interview about James' Blackberryed shot across his naysayers' bows. "He just used it as fuel to do well next season," the Heat's power forward said. "We're all aware of what we do and how critics can be out there sometimes. Some guys, they pay attention to it, some guys don't. He just used it to fuel his ambition to win next year."
James, though, isn't just some guy. The sort of guys who need to prove people wrong are the ones who have been slighted, neglected and under-estimated from the get-go. Early in Gilbert Arenas' NBA career, for example, he famously maintained a "hit list" -- a bad term these days for him, but more of a fun-loving thing at the time -- of the teams whose general managers let him slide all the way into the second round, No. 30 overall, in the 2001 draft.
As he went through the league in his first two seasons with Golden State, Arenas used his list as inspiration to show those teams what they might have had. It worked well enough that Arenas earned the Most Improved Award in 2002-03 and after just two seasons -- benefiting from contract freedom that first-round picks didn't have -- was one of the league's most highly sought free agents.
Now, of course, as Arenas tries to reassimilate to the Washington Wizards and reclaim those happier days when his gimpy knees were a bigger issue than his dubious behavior, he needs to be focusing more on a gratitude list. As in Whew, the $80 million left on my contract still is intact.
Guys like Kwame Brown ought to have an enemies list as he struggles to find an NBA home and career. Or Adam Morrison or Darko Milicic. Maybe Greg Oden has one, dripping with the names of orthopedists. Kobe Bryant surely must have one, the way he burns, even though he doesn't need one. Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Shaquille O'Neal might have enemies lists, even if the only names on them are -- respectively -- Iverson, McGrady and O'Neal.
Michael Beasley apparently has an enemies list that includes more than the team that purged him in its pursuit of James, Wade and Bosh this summer. Asked recently by Jonah Ballow of Timberwolves.com if he would be circling Miami on his new club's schedule, the wayward No. 2 pick from 2008 said: "I'm going to put a big circle around the whole NBA. I feel like I've been counted out, my first two season in the NBA. They might not have been perfect. but I'm proud of them. I went to a 15-win team and [I'm] averaging 45 wins in my short career. ... I feel like I should get a little more recognition for that. But it's life."
Beasley's critics will get to press the reset button this season now that he's back with a 15-win team. If Minnesota averages 45 victories over the next two seasons, he wins and those critics lose.
James, though, doesn't need any of that. He can be fueled by his own desire for a championship, the obligation he has to max out his marvelous skills, the bond he feels with Wade and Bosh and the duty he surely must feel after hearing Heat president Pat Riley's zealous pitches. Proving people wrong? Bah, that's too negative and base to be dragging around through an NBA season or career.
All James needs to do is to produce on the court, make even people outside Miami happy about buying tickets to watch him play basketball and greet the 2010-11 season with a bulletproof sense of fun and humor. If he does that, even Charles (Punk Move) Barkley might soften in his assessment of the Miami decision and enemies list.
James' best approach now is to just step away from the Blackberry, yuk it up a little with Chuck and aim for that Big O season of triple-doubles.
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