BY PETER DAHL
Nike does a really nice job making commercials, but the LeBron “Together” ad is not one of its better efforts.
The spot, despite its potential for chills with timeliness, beautiful black and white visuals and mildly dramatic music fails because it is, in short, silly. Champions do not play for cities and they do not play for fans. As much as we may like that romantic notion, that is not how the real world of sports works.
But, nevertheless, this is how we enter the 2014-15 NBA season, which, for LeBron James, was supposed to begin in magical fashion in the home opener versus the New York Knicks. But the Cavs lost and LeBron played one of the worst games of his professional career. After a win in Chicago, they got shellacked in Portland and Gordon Hayward sniped them at the buzzer in Utah. They have since had average wins at Denver and Boston and home versus New Orleans, highlighted by rumors of a confrontation between LeBron and Kyrie Irving, “news” about Kevin Love probably opting out and disappointment voiced by coach David Blatt after the win versus NOLA.
Hopefully, this inglorious start to the season is a dose of reality for NBA fans. The Cavaliers are a good team, not a great team. They have some chemistry issues and a real lack of bench depth. In other words, they are normal. And that is not to say they cannot win an NBA championship. They will still probably be the best team in the East by the end of the season, but they are going to have to do it on more than the magic of myth and mystique. It is a long season and not every moment is worth analyzing. Success in sports depends on steady focus and discipline over a great amount of time. It is about daily struggles and failures.
Back to Nike’s depiction of LeBron’s Cleveland homecoming. Walking out on the court every day and dedicating your efforts to a city will, inevitably, fail you. It is not a real force for motivation; in fact, the player-to-fan connection is really quite superficial. We may like to think our favorite athletes are out there for us, but we are truly the accents to sports, not its foundation. We are exactly what our name suggests: spectators.
Bill Russell, the greatest champion in sports, won in spite of the fans and his city. He played for his teammates. Michael Jordan won not because of the support of the fans, but because he was a “sportopathic” maniac. As fun as this romanticized notion may be, this is not and certainly cannot be about the city of Cleveland. This is about a roster full of young men trying to become champions together. It is about the ups and downs of sports that make winning an NBA championship really, really tough to do.
Even as I write this, I find myself wondering if LeBron thinks the same way. He has shown maturity and a realistic outlook on this issue at times, but the “Together” commercial, taken with his announcement essay, really make it seem like he has sold his soul to Cleveland. He seems to want us to think that this is some sort of moral reckoning, an honorable dedication of the end of his prime to his bereft hometown. That commercial was so over the top it almost makes you wonder if he believes it. I can only hope it is just a case of teaming up with Nike for some shrewd marketing.
After all, it is the same LeBron who had his picture taken in front of the Christ the Redeemer statue this summer in Brazil while wearing a t-shirt with his own likeness on it. I am not saying that he has a God-complex, but maybe he feels he has outgrown king status. After all, he does have a staggering amount of power on and off the court, inside and outside the NBA. Would a demigod really stoop to dedicate all of his talents to the shores of Lake Erie? Then again, the statue is of Jesus and the whole sacrifice for those who are unworthy thing is kind of a big deal in that “story.” I guess I would not be surprised to see Nike use explicit Christ references in future LeBron ads (they have not shied away from making athletes into gods before.)
Deity of LeBron tangent aside, the fact still remains that the Cavaliers are in the beginning stages of an 82-game season and much has yet to be determined. Soon enough, the romanticized notion of winning one for Cleveland will wear away as LeBron and company go through the daily struggle of working to achieve their goal. No matter how LeBron wants us to perceive this campaign, the fact remains that there are 29 other teams in the NBA, and none of them, not even the Sixers, are going to yield to the king without a fight.