King James is Air Jordan, and Air Jordan was King James, but not in the way that you think.
Here's how you should think: Deception.
More specifically, you should think the fine art of deception. Which, if you believe the Scriptures, always leads to the perpetrator getting exposed at some point with a heavy dose of ugliness.
Exhibit A: Most of the universe didn't know Michael Jordan's public image was a fraud until years after his second Three-Peat with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. The truth dribbled into view -- somewhere between his $168 million divorce settlement and the insufferable (or shall we say insulting?) speech he delivered last year during his induction ceremony into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
No question, much about Jordan was well-crafted fantasy. The lovable superstar no matter what. The everyman with the perfect family. The African-American version of Ed McMahon who wasn't so much into pocketing millions, but who just wanted everybody to have a good pair of underwear and some nice-fitting sneakers.
There is a difference between King James and Air Jordan, though, and it's actually huge. Jordan's image went unblemished on and off the court throughout his playing career. LeBron James continues to dribble with authority in his prime, but when it comes to that self-proclaimed King James, he already is an emperor with no clothes.
Speaking of nakedness, the lengthy campaign by James and his handlers to make King James the next Air Jordan (without the baggage) has flopped, because it suddenly is bare of substance and credibility.
In slightly more than a year, we've gone from Filmgate to LeBrongate to "The Decision" to The Yanking.
Once, when you said, "King James," it caused eyes to pop.
Now it causes eyes to roll.
The negative stuff involving James' image just keeps coming, and it's self-inflicted. For instance: The Yanking.
According to an article by Arash Markazi for ESPN.com, he was an eyewitness to James and his pals enjoying themselves at a Las Vegas nightclub, where they saw a couple of women in their birthday suits sitting in a bathtub full of water and rose petals. Markazi wrote that a giant red crown-shaped cake eventually was brought near James while go-go dancers held aloft placards that read KING.
Markazi also wrote those at the scene -- including NBA players Chris Paul, Glen Davis and Lamar Odom -- were struck by James' arrogance and self-indulgence.
Added Markazi, "The more you hang around James, the more you realize he's still a child wrapped in a 6-foot-8, 250-pound frame."
Young guys with lots of money and huge egos do those types of things, especially athletes. Nobody got hurt or arrested. So it's not a big deal, and neither is the fact that the editors of ESPN.com decided to kill the article on their website after 15 minutes.
They had good reason to do so. And no, they likely weren't influenced by James or the NBA. According to those ESPN.com editors, while Markazi sat at the table with the James party, he didn't represent himself as a reporter who was planning to write about the episode. That wasn't journalistically ethical, and Markazi agreed.
Here's the significance: It's the perception that The Yanking was the latest in an attempt by James and his slew of handlers to run a highly sophisticated campaign of deception -- you know, in an effort to show that James should join Jordan as the definitive pitchman for stuff.
Those handlers include the NBA hierarchy (which knows a Wally Cleaver-like LeBron helps the league), the all-powerful folks at Nike and those from LRMR Marketing Agency, comprised of James and several of his high school buddies.
The first dramatic sign that Team James was trying to use the Team Jordan playbook in the shadows to craft LeBron's image beyond reality occurred three years ago. That was during the NBA playoffs, when the Cavaliers' Ira Newble became James' Craig Hodges.
Remember Hodges? Jordan does.
Hodges was Jordan's teammate on the Bulls, and he is the only person who ever dared to say Air Jordan was prolific at playing games -- the ones away from the court. In particular, Hodges blasted Jordan for not commenting on political or social issues in an effort not to offend anybody along the way to selling that underwear and those sneakers.
Before long, Hodges couldn't find an NBA job. He also was involved in an unsuccessful lawsuit against the league in which he claimed he was blackballed for his Jordan comments and for other things that weren't considered politically correct.
Newble never sued the NBA, and he never admitted to getting blackballed. Even so, he evolved into a Hodges clone during the 2007 playoffs, when he asked James to join other players in signing a petition to chastise the Chinese government for its sinister role in the conflict surrounding the Darfur region of Sudan.
Not surprisingly, James refused after he claimed he didn't know enough about the subject -- as opposed to saying it was because that Team Jordan playbook said stay away from such things.
Then there was Filmgate in the summer of 2009, when word surfaced that James forced his Nike people to confiscate a video of former Xavier player Jordan Crawford dunking over King James at a summer camp. Such a video would keep King James from becoming Like Mike.
Well, this wasn't Like Mike: LeBrongate.
It is apparent in so many ways that James didn't rise one morning, yawn while stretching and decide to join fellow free agents Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade for a Big Three with the Miami Heat. He plotted to bolt the Cavaliers and the northeastern Ohio area of birth long ago, and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer detailed as much in an article.
If you combine that with the hindsight of James' shaky playoff performance this spring against the Boston Celtics, you get the perception that he wasn't as obsessed with winning a world championship for what virtually was his hometown team as he always claimed.
That definitely wasn't Like Mike.
You also had Team James convincing ESPN to give its client an hour of nothingness in prime time for "The Decision" to announce that James would join the Heat. The native of Akron, Ohio, lacked the decency to inform the Cavaliers and those from his native area that he was relocating to South Bench before he told the world on national television.
Despite Jordan's issues with Bulls executive Jerry Krause, he never disrespected his adopted hometown of Chicago.
What a brutal stretch for King James.
Air Jordan can relate, but only to a point.