LeBron James is the face of the National Basketball Association. He is the league's most recognizable player and arguably it's best. On top of that, he is a global icon and one of a handful of the most popular athletes in the world regardless of sports. He's even reached the level of simply being known by just one name: LeBron.
So with that status, it makes sense that the NBA focuses so much of its promotion on him. LeBron brings eyes to whatever game he is playing in and can be a driving force for ticket sales in otherwise smaller markets. Sales of his jersey are typically rank first or second in the league, bringing in even more revenue for the NBA. His performance on the court has also led to countless endorsement and business deals which only lift him into another echelon of wealth, fame, and public perception.
As we've seen with plenty of athletes, or any celebrity for that matter, the higher the profile, the more personal details come out. The public is often hungry to get as much insight into a celebrity's life as possible. It is up to the individual and his or her representatives or organization to do what they can to control that flow of information and keep certain information from getting too much coverage. LeBron James is no different but he's been in the spotlight since he was about 16 years old. This means that basically his entire life has been lived in the public eye, under a magnifying glass. While certain aspects of openness can be beneficial, there are still certain things about LeBron's life and game that the NBA would prefer to downplay. Here are 15 examples.
15 He Was Declared Ineligible In High School
Part of being surrounded by so much hype at young age is the level of temptation. For a high school LeBron James, there were likely numerous people and companies in his ear trying to hitch their wagon to what was even then considered a sure fire NBA talent.
There was one incident in which controversy surrounded LeBron after his mother gave him a $50,000 car. Having grown up in basically poverty, this raised some eyebrows but he was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing. But in 2003 LeBron was stripped of his eligibility for the final five games of high school career after it was discovered he was gifted jerseys from a Cleveland-area clothing store. The two items totaled a little over $800 and James was handed a suspension as a result. While this isn't a huge violation and James' future was all but determined at that point, it was still a stain on his reputation before he even entered the NBA Draft. Not a good look for a kid the NBA was pinning high hopes on.
14 He's A Whiner
There is little debate that basketball is one of the harder sports to officiate. The speed of the game, the size of the players, and the amount of contact around the basket all mean that fouls could be called on virtually every play. On top of that, there is the very real thing of superstars getting calls that other players typically would not. There is no better example of this than the treatment LeBron James gets when he steamrolls his way to the basket.
Regardless, LeBron still has developed a reputation for being a bit of a crybaby on the court if he feels as though calls aren't going his way. He does this both on the court and off. During the game he is very demonstrative with his reactions but does a well enough job of avoiding technicals. He takes a similar approach off the court in his post-games comments, saying just enough to keep from getting fined. The NBA does not like referees getting attention, so it stands that they probably don't appreciate their best player constantly making an issue out of the officiating.
13 He's Political
There is nothing inherently wrong with an athlete speaking his or her mind on political issues. They have just as much of a right as anyone else. But like many other companies, the NBA may not always want its employees voicing their political beliefs and distracting from the final product. We've seen it when players were asked not to wear "I Can't Breathe" shirts in response to police violence. LeBron was one of the players who went against that wish and wore one of the shirts.
He has also been involved in presidential elections by supporting Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Again, there is nothing wrong with these actions but it is likely something the NBA would prefer to shy away from. There is the risk that fans, sponsors, or whoever that may have opposing views could stay away from the NBA and LeBron due to such political stands. There is a quote credited to Michael Jordan on why he never discussed politics: "Republicans buy sneakers, too." It's possible that the NBA would like LeBron to adopt this approach as well.
12 He's A Bandwagon Sports Fan
The NBA cares very much about the loyalty of its fans and how it perceives the players on the court as well as how they represent the city in which they play. Anytime a player suits up for his hometown team, there is extra attention and it makes for a nice storyline. This is why there was so much emphasis on LeBron, just a "kid from Akron," getting drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers and why it was such a big deal for him to bail for the Miami Heat before his eventual return.
So it makes sense why LeBron caught some flack when he showed up to a Cleveland Indians baseball game sporting a New York Yankees hat. When the Indians made a push for the World Series last year, James was more visible at games and suggested he was a fan despite saying he was a Yankees fan for years. He has also claimed to love the Dallas Cowboys. That support also didn't sit well with Browns fans in Cleveland. This kind of backlash in Cleveland is probably reason enough for the NBA to want LeBron to stick to basketball.
11 He'd Rather Be An Actor Than A Coach
There are a lot of examples of former big time players trying their hands at coaching once they retire. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Jason Kidd are just a few examples. The NBA loves this because it can raise the profile of a struggling team or add another layer to coverage based on the coach's playing career.
Even though he is still on the top of his game, LeBron James is not immune to the speculation of what his post-playing days will have in store. But we already know that it will not involve coaching in the NBA. As he said last year, he would never become a head coach because he feels like he would get unfairly blamed for everything. LeBron James is competitive but it sounds like he doesn't want to take any heat if things go wrong for a team he's leading from the sidelines.
Instead, LeBron seems to be much more interested in pursuing acting. Other players may seek out broadcasting opportunities rather than coach but it looks like James is seeking something different. He received praise for his work in "Trainwreck," has appeared in a handful of other projects as himself, and has expressed desire to work with actress Jennifer Lawrence. If the NBA wants to monetize off James, it will only be while he's wearing a uniform and not while holding a clipboard.
10 He Takes Games Off
LeBron James is a top one or two most marketable players for the NBA. When the Cleveland Cavaliers come into opposing cities, there is a fair amount of their fans there but even more so there are fans there just for the chance to see LeBron play. They shell out hundreds of dollars for a ticket and spend even more once they get to the stadium. So you can imagine the disappointment on game days when its announced that James will not play and the reason given is "rest."
This has become much more of an issue for the NBA this season as more teams hold out premier players in order to save energy or avoid risk as the season winds down and playoff preparations begin. Commissioner Adam Silver has even had to comment but at this point, there doesn't seem to be any concrete ideas outside of forcing players to play. That seems extremely unlikely so as a result, fans have to expect there is a chance LeBron doesn't suit up. Of course the NBA doesn't want this to affect ticket sales or end with disgruntled fans so something needs to be worked out.
9 He Is A Poor Free Throw Shooter
The greatness of LeBron James can not be argued. He is a physically dominating player who can seemingly score at will, facilitate with his passing ability, and change the course of the game with a single defensive play. With all that being said there is still part of his game that is flawed: his free throw shooting.
Free throw shooting is something that seems like it should come easy to NBA players and especially those who are already accomplished shooters in the course of play. Even if it is a weak area, extra time in the gym and focus should be enough to correct mechanical problems and increase efficiency. That has not been the case for LeBron in his career. His career best free throw percentage is only 78% and that came back in 2008. This past season was his worst at the line, finishing at just 67%, bringing his career percentage to 74%. While this isn't exactly terrible, compare it to the numbers put up by players LeBron is often categorized with: MJ and Kobe were both career 83% free throw shooters and even now Kevin Durant shoots 88%.
James' shortcomings have noticeably affected his play late in games. There have been instances when he has been hesitate to drive to the basket and risk getting fouled. Not exactly the instinct the NBA wants from its marquee player when it's because of something kids can practice in the driveway.
8 He Feuds With NBA Legends
The NBA is a family and the sport of basketball is a brotherhood, or so the league would like fans to believe. It seems that any chance the NBA gets to showcase past players or legends, be it at All-Star Weekend, on television broadcasts, or during the Finals, they take it. If a player or coach makes a lasting impact on the league or a team, you can be sure that the NBA will find a way to keep him in the spotlight. So it can become a bit of a problem when the current face of the NBA continually has an issue with his predecessors. Two examples come to mind for LeBron James.
In January, Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley called out LeBron after James suggested the Cavaliers needed another playmaker on the roster. Barkley questioned James' competitiveness by noting how high the Cavs' payroll already was and that LeBron's own talent should make up for any holes he saw in the roster. The King's response to Sir Charles was to label him a "hater" and challenge his credibility.
Then there was LeBron's issue with Phil Jackson after Jackson referred to James and his associates as a "posse." In an interview, Jackson was critical of James during his time in Miami for wanting special treatment. LeBron and his business partner Maverick Carter took offense to Jackson's use of "posse" for its racial connotations.
7 He Has Influence Over Adam Silver
Typically in professional sports a league's commissioner serves the owners and their interests. As much as he has influence over setting rules and policies, the ultimate goal is to make money for the league and by extension, the owners. And while having a solid working relationship with players' unions is beneficial, it can be a whole different story when a single player can sway the entire entity's leadership.Such may be the case between LeBron and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. There a few examples in which LeBron seems to have a special influence over Silver.
First, Silver stated that he would meet with James after the superstar became one of the loudest critics of the NBA's sleeved jerseys. Other players had spoken out about the uniform designs but it wasn't until LeBron voiced his thoughts that Silver addressed it.
Then there is the schedule for the NBA Finals. After losing the 2015 championship to the Warriors in six games, LeBron said he was exhausted from the cross-country flights and the series taking place over only 13 days. So what did Adam Silver do for 2016? He changed the format of the Finals and allowed for more days between games. LeBron got more rest and ultimately another championship.
A similar scenario played out regarding All-Star weekend. Silver stated in 2014 that he met with a group of players, including a very vocal LeBron James, who wanted more time off during the All-Star break. Again, LeBron is looking for more time to rest and it sounds like Silver is willing to bend over backwards to keep the star happy.
6 He Doesn't Have Many Friends In The NBA
In keeping with the idea that the NBA is something of a family, many players develop strong friendships during their careers. This can happen both with teammates and opponents although the latter may be why there seems to be a lack of bad blood or high profile rivalries. The NBA has done its best to promote these player bonds whenever the story is applicable.
LeBron is a different story and by his own admission does not have many friends in the NBA. When controversy started to surround the Cavaliers at the start of the Big Three era of James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, LeBron was quick to suggest making friends wasn't a priority for him. Things seemed tense among James and Love especially, with Love stating that he and LeBron were "not best friends." LeBron responded by naming Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul as his only friends in the NBA. It's interesting to consider that is by his choice, or perhaps the NBA's number one star is all that likable.
5 He Doesn't Get Along With Teammates
This brings us to the next thing the NBA would like fans to ignore about LeBron James: he has problems with teammates. We looked a little bit at his struggles with Kevin Love early in his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, whether it was passive aggressive Twitter posts, excluding Love from team pictures, or comments to the media. but there have been other instances.
There was his relationship with Mario Chalmers while playing for the Miami Heat. He had a public spat with Chalmers during a game that was caught on camera and widely discussed. Even President Barack Obama had to comment on the near bullying of Chalmers during the Heat's White House Visit.
There were also reports that he told Cavaliers teammate Tristan Thompson to keep his girlfriend, Khloe Kardashian, away from the team and Cavs games. The warning didn't seem to change anything but it couldn't have done much to bolster the locker room environment.
4 He Loves To Make Excuses
Excuses rarely, if ever, go over well in sports. Not with fans, not with analysts, and usually not with teammates either. So it is not a great look for the NBA when its best player constantly finds a way to shift blame or avoid responsibility for losses and on-court failures of both he and his team.
LeBron has done it all when it comes to finding excuses. We mentioned earlier that he loves finding problems with referees but beyond that it's been injuries, bad teammates, coaching decisions, and roster construction that have all cost James games and championships. This is all according to James himself, of course. Perhaps it's just LeBron's way of working the media, but it definitely doesn't fly well with many of his peers.
3 He Gets Coaches Fired
It is not uncommon for big time players to be involved in a team's hiring decisions when it comes to coaching. For LeBron James, he has also had maybe a little too much input when it comes to the dismissal of coaches.
First there is some debate over LeBron's role in Cleveland's decision to fire Mike Brown in 2010. James was a free agent at the time and reportedly refused to give input when asked by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. But at the same time, he could have easily saved Brown's job by stepping in if he felt that way. Many at the time thought that was Brown was fired in an attempt to please James and sway his decision.
In Miami, James had his difficulties with Erik Spoelstra and at times was disrespectful towards the coach. This led many to see Spoelstra as nothing more than a figurehead and that James was free to run the team as he saw fit.
Then there is the case of David Blatt. Reports suggested that LeBron didn't appreciate Blatt's more aggressive personality which led to friction. So when the Cavs stumbled a bit in early 2016, LeBron was the head of a group of players who wanted a change. Ultimately, the Cavs sided with James by firing Blatt and hiring LeBron's preferred replacement in assistant Tyronn Lue.
The "coach killer" label is one of the worst in sports for a player. You have to imagine that the NBA hopes Lue can succeed with James for as long as possible to avoid any other controversy between player and coaches.
2 He Regrets The Decision
No matter what he does on the court or how many championships he actually wins, LeBron James will never be able to escape "The Decision." It will always be brought up when discussing his career or what type of person and professional he was. Yes, the 75-minute television special raised a lot of money for charity, but that is just about where the positives end.
First there was the betrayal that many fans in Cleveland considered James was guilty of by going to the Heat. Then his line "taking my talents to South Beach" became a running joke. On top of it all was criticism from former and current players who said LeBron was taking the easy way out by teaming up with D-Wade and Bosh.
By the time that 2010-11 season started, James already was having second thoughts. He said he would probably do things differently when asked about it in October. Later in 2011 he seemed to understand why Cavs fans were so upset with him, saying he would be angry if his favorite player left in a similar fashion. He learned his lesson when he decided to return to Cleveland, choosing to write an essay rather than produce a television event.
The NBA was likely pleased with the ratings, storylines, and attention the Decision brought the league not to mention the merchandise sales for having LeBron in Miami. Less pleased is the NBA to hear that the man himself thought it was a bad idea.
1 He Flops
LeBron James flops. He sells fouls and fakes injuries. It is undeniable because there is a mountain of evidence to support it. There is an over five and a half minute long video compilation of his injuries online and even that hasn't been updated in a couple seasons.
While flopping is a major issue in the NBA, it is not a great look to have the league's best player doing it. It's even worse when you consider how much of a physically imposing player LeBron is on the court. A player of his size and strength is expected to show a little more toughness. James didn't help his image in 2014 when he said "I don't flop, I don't even know how to do it." The NBA disagreed just the year before when it fined James $5,000 for a flop during the playoffs.
The fact that the NBA hasn't punished James for flopping since then despite his reputation suggests that maybe they don't want to bring any more attention to his antics. It seems like they are content to let him flail around the court in the hopes that no one notices. If he never gets fined, then did he truly flop??