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Fran Blinebury

LeBron James
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Flip-flopping LeBron digging himself into a PR hole

Posted Jan 14 2011 10:29AM

So the next thing LeBron will probably tell us is that the same dog that ate his homework also has a Twitter account.

As Tom Petty might have sung, it'd good to be King James, if just for a while. But it would have to be a very short while, because I'd be too afraid my head would explode trying to keep up with all of those constantly changing positions on virtually everything.

Now he's the Karma Chameleon, residing within the walls of an insular culture club where the other members only feed a disingenuous image. Boy Forge, if you will.

The latest episode has James first dabbling in Eastern religion with the karma crack that was obviously directed at Dan Gilbert, his former employer in Cleveland, gratuitously slapping his ex-teammates and so-called friends still with the Cavaliers and then running screaming away from the comment like a resident of downtown Tokyo when Godzilla comes ashore. They weren't even his own thoughts, LeBron now says, perhaps tweeted by the mouse that lives his shirt pocket.

This is all far less offensive than laughable. The real joke is what @KingJames -- as he's known on Twitter -- has done in the past six months to make his royal crown look more like something worn by a court jester.

Remember, before he sat down with Jim Gray on July 8 for the most uncomfortable hour of live television since Katie Couric's colonoscopy, LeBron was one of the most popular athletes on the planet. It wasn't the mere fact that he left the Cavs, but the way he publicly hung the entire community in northeastern Ohio out to dry that turned his image on its head.

From a basketball standpoint, there is little to question about James' decision. He's averaging 25.4 points, 7.2 assists and 7 rebounds a game, not so far removed from the numbers that earned him back-to-back MVP awards in the previous two seasons. And since that awkward first month of the season when he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were trying to figure out their respective roles, the Heat have devoured the league, winning 21 of their last 24 games.

Yet it's never been about his play. Only the most narrow-minded would deny that those talents he took to South Beach are among the most special to ever grace the league.

This should be the time of LeBron's life and maybe it still can be if he could ever get past the persecution complex and find out whom he really is. "I feel bad for myself" and "I spoil people" are hardly endearing comments and reveal as much about James as any ESPN interview.

Almost since the moment that he made his decision to move to Miami, LeBron's smiling public face has been replaced by LeScowl. He has said time and again that he's no longer in this to win friends, only championships -- "two, three, four, five, six, seven." Yet he practically cries out for a hug.

In one change of address, James has gone from hometown hero to national villain and the truth is that he doesn't seem to have the steely-eyed stare or the don't-give-a-damn nerve to be wearing the black hat. He's consumed with confusion, equally full of temerity and timidity.

Do you think Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn or any of the Detroit Pistons gave a rip about their image back in the day? Did Rasheed Wallace ever care that more than half the fans in every visiting arena thought he was surly, nasty and maybe crazy?

LeBron has shown himself to be more of a designer Bad Boy -- Dolce & Gangsta -- who can't walk the walk.

James headed into his new life in Miami saying he could take anything that the "haters" threw at him. Yet the Heat were still doing the early calisthenics in training camp when he retweeted several especially racially charged messages he'd received so that the world could know his pain and burden. But that hate mail didn't bother him at all, he said.

When the Heat were having their early struggles, LeBron either bumped or he didn't bump coach Erik Spoelstra that night in Dallas. Was it intentional or an accident? The faux bad boy never says.

Is he the instigator or the fall guy? He'll let you decide and always leave room to back out.

Last week the villain was casting himself as victim again, claiming he and Wade would split the vote at the top and therefore he would not stand a chance to win the MVP for a third straight season. Part winner, part whiner.

It's an interesting paradox that this magnificent player is simultaneously building himself a shiny legacy and digging a hole to bury it in.

LeBron wants us to know how very good he is and how very baaaad he can be.

So he tweets. Then he retreats. It all leaves another gaping hole in his credibility.

The Karma Chameleon.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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