(I have no idea why, but this also involves the city of New York.)
As it turns out, there exists such a theoretical space. It was brought into being by the Nike corporation, under the watchful eye of Wieden+Kennedy, in 2005, and flourished for around two years before mysteriously disappearing from the airwaves (it lived on, imperfectly, in the world of collectible kicks). That would be The LeBrons, which ripped off Herman's Head as a way of offering insight into the mind of the young superstar.
In the wake of this past week's events, The LeBrons -- which sought to show us that James had more than one set of impulses and goals -- are more relevant than ever.
A brief refresher: this imaginary family, modeled after a seventies sitcom, featured four different LBJ avatars. There was Athlete LeBron, who just wanted to play the game and hold his head up high; Kid LeBron, all about having fun; Business LeBron, the breakout star with the self-explanatory name; and Wise LeBron, an old head prone to referencing the past, perhaps with a healthy dose of irony. Biz LeBron, too, often verged on self-parody.
When the campaign first appeared, folks like me leaped at the quasi-Freudian structure of Bron's psyche. There was also Biz LeBron's throwaway line "Dunk contests as bourgeois," which immediately became an all-time Nike classic. But what made The LeBrons memorable was that they were was at once hilarious and highly personal. James really saw himself as comprised of distinctive, sometimes disjunctive parts. If we take The LeBrons seriously, it's hard to see how we couldn't apply them to the King's free agency circus.
Excuse me for slipping into the first-person, but when I look at the current LeBron circus, that's exactly what I see: a jumble of objects and emotions, held by James and those passing judgment on him, without much attempt to really dissect the situation. That's where The LeBrons come into play. Three years after they vanished from the airwaves, they're an invaluable tool when it comes to making sense of who's good, bad, and or just an innocent by-stander in the last week's blitz of events.
Let's start with The Decision, the one thing we can all agree on. As far as marketing, branding, public relations, and every other extra-basketballular buzzword is concerned, it wasn't just a bad idea -- this was the kind of blunder we'll reference for a long, long time. That said -- and here's where The LeBrons come into play -- it won't necessarily stick to James the player. Sure, there will be signs at hostile arenas, and punchlines if you want them.
Come October, though, all anyone will care about is whether the Heat can make it work on the court. If Kobe Bryant could live down Eagle, Colorado, LeBron James in his prime can push The Decision off to the margins.
It's separable simply because LeBron's job these days, at this young age, is still just to play basketball. Anything else is ambitious, and laudable, but unexpected. James is a 25-year-old, (mis)managed by his friends. Going with the Horsemen, The Decision, these were experiments, maybe even high-stakes juvenalia. Biz LeBron, and the dudes behind him, simply aren't ready (yet) to mastermind the business side of things like, say, James's hero Jay-Z. Jay, and innumerable other rappers, successfully installed themselves in the board room.
Plus, the mini-max was a stroke of genius that pretty much changed the face of NBA labor and set the stage for this unprecedented Miami formation. Yet all anyone wants to see is The Decision, which admittedly rubbed pretty much everyone the wrong way, bordered on absurd, and -- no matter how huge the ratings turned out to be -- was an experiment that simply came off about as awkwardly, as fatuously, as it possibly could have.
That one was all on Biz LeBron, presumably with Wise LeBron yelling in his ear to sit down and shut up.
If we brush aside Biz LeBron, though, we're still left with three-quarters of this happy family. We're also still left with The Betrayal (Biz LeBron's ain't caring there), the Heat, and history. Right about now, Athlete LeBron has got to be sitting on top of the world. He's joining two of his best friends in the Association to form a superteam. They'll win some titles, but also expect some of the most exhilarating ball we've ever seen. Between James's all-around talents, Wade's explosiveness, and Bosh's ability to fill in the gaps, the Heat will be a joy to behold.
That's where Kid LeBron steps in. James can be a real sheep-killer on the court, but at his best, he's also got Magic Johnson's irrepressible enthusiasm flowing through him. Kid LeBron is also taking the floor with his pals, perhaps finding the kind of camaraderie he hasn't known since the St. Vincent-St. Mary days. At the same time, he's got his own ambivalence to deal with, one which it's just downright mean to question: born for Cleveland versus working there. Dan Gilbert failed to recognize that, while part of James can feel attached to his hometown, in the end, that's his choice -- and part of his being that might be at odds with his other interests.
And so it comes down to Wise LeBron, keeper of history and perspective. I'll acknowledge that Wise rings hollow for many, seeing as James's deference to history often comes off as contrived cant. But Wise does speak some hard truths, and the mere acknowledgment that it (he?) is one of several voices at play makes you think that James feels the gravity of tradition. At the same time, here he has for once decided to go against it.
You can imagine what Wise thinks about all this; it's pretty much the same thing you're hearing from everyone believing that James is now the Alex Rodriguez of basketball, and also dovetails with the most cynical discussions of LBJ's brand.
At the same time, an awareness of history means that James knows when he's making it. Somewhere inside his brain, LeBron realizes that this Heat team is neither all fun and games, nor sheer competitive might. Wise could care less about The Decision; it was juvenile and the fury over it is bound to subside. But the mini-max, and the team it allowed for, are a story that's just beginning. Wise LeBron represents the uncertainty we all feel over just what Miami means for the league, how history will perceive it.
That kind of thoughtful attitude is worlds away from the white-hot spectacle of this Miami team coming together, or the laughable Decision. We need to keep these things separate if we really want to get to the bottom of them. And if The LeBrons are any indication, James himself is probably doing the same thing.
The only way to make sense of this picture, to walk away without being overwhelmed, is to acknowledge that the situation is complex -- as is the man at the center of it, too.