Andrew Unterberger is the Last Angry Man in the crusade against LeBron James and his not-so-gradual march towards total unassailability. He’ll be checking in with us once a month this NBA season for an update on where he’s at with his LeBron hating, and how his attempts to channel all the world’s negative energy towards one generally well-meaning basketball player are progressing.
It didn’t take long for me to round into mid-season LeBron James hate form. I was wondering if after a summer spent in the undesirable position of having to root for LeBron in the Olympics — I may be a hater, but I ain’t no commie — and a relatively quiet offseason quote-and-activity-wise, maybe my stance towards LBJ would soften once his first post-championship season tipped off. Unsurprisingly, half a quarter into the Heat’s first game against the Celtics — a couple brilliant layups and passes, a couple shots of his smiling mug, a couple flashbacks to him collecting his championship ring pregame — and I was pretty much good to go. Hate springs eternal in the NBA.
Helping matters (or not, depending on your perspective) were the commercials. Now, in his nearly decade-long NBA career, LeBron has only ever made two good commercials: that very first one from his rookie year picturing him “freezing” in his debut game against the Kings (a bit surreal in its vision of an NBA never influenced by Danny Biasone, but affecting nonetheless) and the famous “Rise” spot from two years ago, which almost came close to almost coming close to making LeBron seem sympathetic in the post-”Decision” fallout and hopefully won somebody at Nike an extended makeout session with Joan Harris. (I don’t count the LeBron copier-jam “This is SportsCenter” ad, as the brand obviously overwhelmed its star on that one.) Other than that, it’s been an atrocity exhibition of poorly scripted spots that attempted to make LeBron seem relatable (nope), charismatic (nope) or funny (he gone!), and which have probably increased DVR subscriptions by 65 percent among NBA viewers over the course of the last nine seasons.
The latest two LeBron spots, naturally, have been no exception. The first, a Samsung ad based around a Day in the Life of LeBron, is smartly filmed, and brilliantly soundtracked by The Impressions’ undeniable “Keep on Pushin’,” but there’s just too much LeBron to go around. LeBron with his kids (cute, but way too old to think that drawing a clown wig on a photo of their dad is funny), LeBron on the phone with “Coach Drew” (the assumption that we should know or care who “Coach Drew” is, even if true, I find endlessly irritating), LeBron being chased after by the Youth of America so they can shower him with praise and adoration (more on this in a minute), and LeBron at the barbershop (truly a man of the people till the end). Most importantly, there’s way, way too much of this LeBron face:
Blugh. Distasteful as I found that commercial, it was relatively benign compared to the other Samsung ad that debuted Opening Night, the “I Promise” spot. This one features a lot of kids from the LeBron James Foundation — which I’m sure does a lot of legitimate good in the world and is probably ultimately worth a self-serving ad or two, but this is not a hater’s concern — talking about vows they’ve made in their lives to do good things. Noble enough, until halfway through it unexpectedly devolves into a lovefest for LeBron and his largely unrelated dominance in the NBA Finals last season. The kids squeal “CONGRATULATIONS LEBRON!!!” and share their visual interpretations of LBJ’s moment of triumph:
Just gross. Did Dirk get any of these ultra-narcissistic ads after dispatching LeBron in the Finals two seasons ago? Maybe you need International League Pass for that.
Anyway, after the opening night commercial two-fer and the too-easy Celtics dismissal, things were relatively quiet on the LeBron front for the next few weeks. I was a little miffed that he ruined what could have been a great Nuggets upset, but after the Nuggets dropped consecutive games to the Sixers and Magic, they didn’t really deserve to be in that game anyway, so whatever. I also got to enjoy two immensely satisfying Heat beatdowns at the hands of the Knicks and Grizzlies, two of my League Pass favorites (I originally ranked the Grizzlies way too low on the pre-emptive and ultimately inaccurate assumption that their best days might be behind them). LeBron, however, did cost me a little bit of schadenfreude when I gleefully checked the box score after the Grizzlies loss to see his subpar stat line, only to find out that he actually had 20 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and just two turnovers. As a Sixers fan, if Evan Turner ever had a final line like that, I’d have to call in sick to work the next day because I wouldn’t be ready to stop my basking in the box score’s glow, even if it was in a 20-point loss.
The fond memories of that Grizzlies game were erased barely 24 hours later, though, with last night’s win against the Rockets. Houston, who might top my League Pass rankings if I did them today, played so out of their minds for three quarters of that game (between the second half of the first and the first half of the fourth), just beautiful team basketball with about a half-dozen players giving their best effort of the season, that it seemed like they might actually make it two in a row down for the defending champs. But LeBron just couldn’t leave well enough alone, officially Turning It On in the second half, and refusing to give Houston the single miscue that they needed to secure the W. (That three-pointer he hit from about 30 feet out with the shock clock expiring was particularly stubborn.) In the end, LeBron was undeniable as gravity, ending with 38 points, 10 rebounds and six assists as the Heat squeaked out the 113-110 road win.
Heads up, LeBron: This isn’t 2010-11 anymore. You’ve got a championship now. You can lose two games in a row these days without the ground crumbling beneath you. Do you see all the shit they’re going through in L.A.? They began the season 1-4, they’re starting Darius Morris at point guard, they’ve already fired their coach and replaced him with a guy who Jeremy Lin couldn’t even save on the Knicks last year. And this is the team that people think is going to be your primary competition for the Finals this year. Your ONLY competition, some would probably argue. For once, you’re basically safe from media scrutiny. Meanwhile, James Harden and his merry band of extra-two-percenters wanna steal their fans a feel-good home win that they can tell their grandkids about and you just decide “nah, I’m gonna take this one for the hell of it?”
Honestly. Some people.
Hate Index: 7/10