Imagine if everyone were like LeBron James, the Kanye West of the jock set who recently said someday his face will belong on the Mount Rushmore of pro basketball players, if there were such a thing.
“I’m gonna be the top four who ever appeared on the screen, for sure, and Meryl Streep, Ingrid Bergman and the Hepburns — one of them’s gotta get bumped.” — Jennifer Lawrence
“I’m going to be in the top four ever to hold this great office, for sure. They’re going to have to re-chisel one of those faces on Mount Rushmore to get me in there.” — Barack Obama
“Yo, if there were a Mount Rushmore for performers, there would be four faces — all mine.” — Kanye West
“There’s Jacko, Elvis, Justin and moi, and if anyone says different, I’ll drag race on his street.” — The Biebs
Welcome to the era of self-promotion, where James lives and works. James says he’s versatile. That explains how he manages to be an NBA star while also serving as a fulltime PR man — for himself.
How does he find the time?
Recently he was asked to name the four players who would be included on the Mount Rushmore of NBA players. He named Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. He should have left it at that, but then when he was asked if he would include himself, James went all Kanye on him.
“I’m going to be one of the top four that’s ever played this game, for sure,” he said. “And if they don’t want me to have one of those top four spots, they’d better find another spot on that mountain. Somebody’s gotta get bumped, but that’s not for me to decide. That’s for the architects.”
The 29-year-old James still doesn’t get it and, after 11 years in the league, it’s pretty clear he’s never going to get it: SELF-PROMOTION IS NOT COOL. Then again, this is the same guy who arranged an entire TV show to announce he was ditching his hometown team to go to another team. It was about as classy as calling a press conference to announce he was dumping his wife for another woman.
James needs to lose the self-promotion. Just don’t go there. Even if he’s asked. Especially if he’s asked. He should fake modesty or hire a publicist and feed him the words. James occasionally deflects such questions by saying they are for others to answer, but then he caves in. He can’t help it. Or he compromises: He should be up there on the Mount, but it’s up to others to decide which one of the other guys gets knocked off of it.
For James, it’s all about James, and not the team, but that’s largely what the NBA culture engenders and thrives on. It’s all about “legacies” and “being the best player ever.” The team’s fortunes are second or third.
James has won most of the major individual awards — Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player (four times), NBA Finals MVP (twice), All-Star Game MVP (twice), Player of the Month (26 times), Player of the Week (45 times). But, wait, he’s missing a few. What about his legacy? When it was noted that James is able to defend all five positions (but, alas, not all at once), he told the Sun-Sentinel, “That’s why I should be Defensive Player of the Year. No one has ever done this before.”
If he’s lucky, maybe he’ll get hurt so he can vie for Comeback Player of the Year. Then he can bench himself and win the Sixth Man of the Year Award. After that, he can take up coaching and win Coach of the Year.
During the All-Star Game, sideline reporter Craig Sager read a response to James from former Celtic great Bill Russell: “Hey, thank you for leaving me off your Mount Rushmore. I’m glad you did. Basketball is a team game, it’s not for individual honors. I won back-to-back state championships in high school, back-to-back NCAA championships in college. I won an NBA championship my first year in the league, an NBA championship in my last year, and nine in between. That, Mr. James, is etched in stone.”
Magic Johnson had a similar response: NBA Championship rings are all that matter: Jordan 6, Me 5, Bird 3, LeBron 2 and Dr. J 1.”
At the moment, right or wrong, most don’t even consider James the favorite to win the MVP award this season. The favorite is Kevin Durant, who is leading the league in most categories and, at 25, has a better sense of propriety than his rival. When asked about James’ Mount Rushmore statements, Durant said, “That’s confidence. That’s confidence.”
"I respect the legends,” Durant continued. “I respect everything they've done for the game. This is my seventh year in the league, man. I've got a long time to play, so we'll see after that, but right now I don't think I should be on there (Mount Rushmore) at all. I shouldn't even be thought about being on there."
James should memorize those words.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org