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Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images
LeBron James' first step toward redemption after a controversial year may be making better decisions with his mouth.

SALT LAKE CITY — As a member of the media, I depend on people talking. And yet, I offer this friendly advice to LeBron James:

Just shut up already. Please, save yourself. JUST SAY NO — TO TALKING. When you feel the urge to talk, eat something or chew on that gooey mouth guard some more.

There's a reason everyone in the country was pulling against LeBron this season, and it is only partially connected to the abandonment of his hometown team. He can't keep his mouth closed.

There is something to say for not having something to say. For instance, he can't keep saying things like this:

"At the end of the day," he told reporters after losing the championship to the Dallas Mavericks Sunday night, "all the people that were rooting for me to fail ... at the end of the day, tomorrow they have to wake up and have the same life that [they had] before they woke up today. They got the same personal problems they had today. And I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do."

Great, that should help. Who's advising this guy, Terrell Owens? Memo to LeBron: Whether you win or lose, our lives are the same, but Sunday night was AWESOME and thank you. It certainly cheered life for we Little People who don't have a mansion to go home to and had to report to the coal mines on Monday morning.

When everything you say has been so wrong, it's time to shut it.

Has the country ever been so united against one athlete? Cheering for LeBron was like cheering for Ivan Drago. It began a national pastime. TV ratings for the last three games of the Mavericks-Heat series surpassed those for the same games in last year's NBA Finals, which featured the Lakers and Celtics, the most celebrated teams in basketball. Viewership soared by 22 percent over last year's Game 6. There's only one explanation: People wanted to see LeBron fail.

Admit it: You enjoyed it so much you even watched the post-game celebration with all those inane interviews.

James has only himself to blame. Every time he opens his mouth he reveals a certain arrogance, which is probably to be expected from a guy who has had everything handed to him since he was a teenager – Madison Avenue, the NBA, the media, a ticket to the Hall of Fame. It's the type of arrogance that makes it impossible to embrace even a freakishly gifted athlete.

Even LeBron's much-criticized jump from Cleveland to Miami might have been forgivable for many fans if he had orchestrated it graciously and kept his mouth shut. Instead, he was the star of that excruciatingly painful TV special – "The Decision" — in which he was interviewed by the equally insufferable Jim Gray before announcing that he was "taking his talents" to South Beach. It was a study in self-absorption.

Then he made it worse with his surreal "welcome to Miami" party, featuring James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on stage with the neon signs and smoke machines and colored lights. Swept up in the moment, James announced that he had come to Miami to win "not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" championships. "And when I say that, I really believe it," he said smiling.

Ugh. Was he trying to make himself a target?

Then things went from bad to worse. He made a TV commercial – 90 seconds long – in which he pled for sympathy, using the word "I" constantly and asking "What should I do?" The fact that he had CHOSEN1 tattooed on his shoulders didn't help.

There was more, such as the time a CNN reporter served up an excuse for him, asking if his falling out with the public was the result of racism – and of course James agreed and ran with it.

The transformation of James into a villain was complete. Like Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones and Owens, he self-destructed. He is his own worst enemy.

After saying he doesn't care what anyone thinks about him, LeBron tweeted this message last year: "Don't think for one (minute) that I haven't been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone!"

LeBron could have learned something from, of all people, Carlos Boozer. Boozer's departure from both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Utah Jazz were unpopular, controversial and considered disloyal, but he had the good sense not to talk or respond to criticism.

It's not too late for LeBron. He could win back his popularity and possibly sympathy – even Vick was able to do that – but first he'll have to learn to control his mouth.

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