I’m an NBA fan and a comic book nerd. It’s rare that the two worlds intersect (outside of Shaquille O’Neal’s Superman fetish). Recent news in both comics and basketball created an intersection that I think could be helpful to the NBA’s biggest star, LeBron James.
James took his talents to South Beach last summer to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat. The team-up immediately created a juggernaut of premiere talent with its sights on the NBA title. Basketball pundits questioned the likelihood of a Frankenstein-like construct capturing the championship without spending a season or two acclimating itself to all of its new components, but at the heart of those doubts was a fear that the Heat could win it all right away. Like a mutant superhero, adding LeBron’s power to Wade’s athletic grace and Bosh’s height had created an immediate contender. The whispers of a championship were immediate.
The team-up also made the Miami Heat the most vilified and loathed team in basketball. James and his friends were accused of taking shortcuts, plotting conspiracies and demonstrating premature arrogance. Fans looked at the Miami Heat as conceited bullies with no respect for the other teams or for the game itself. LeBron James spent the season as the focal point for this stream of criticism. When the Heat made it all the way to the NBA Finals and then subsequently lost to the Dallas Mavericks, the blame hung on LeBron James.
After eight years of recognition as the most talented player in the game, he is now being examined only for his flaws and short-comings. LeBron defers too much. LeBron can’t take over games. LeBron has no low-post game. LeBron can’t close. LeBron will never be a champion. LeBron is no Michael Jordan.
LeBron is kind of like comic books.
Even though our movie screens are crowded these days with super-powered people in impractical costumes, comic books themselves aren’t doing so well. There are vocal supporters of comics who can speak about the tremendous talents who write and illustrate them these days, but there are many other people ready to point out the short-comings of the format. They are expensive. They’re hard to find. The specialty shops that carry them are unwelcoming. Comics are immature, or too mature, or convoluted, or simple-minded, or nerdy.
Like the criticisms of LeBron James, all of the criticisms of comic books are true. Sometimes. Other times, comics (and Lebron) are truly amazing. The trick is convincing people to pay more attention to the good parts than the bad.
LeBron, I’d like you to meet DC Comics.
DC is one of the two major publishers of comic books in the United States (along with Marvel). Most people are familiar with DC even if they don’t realize it. For several generations they’ve published the adventures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and many, many others. Obviously, DC has an interest in preventing comic books from going the way of the drive-in movie. They made a bold move earlier this month by announcing all of the comics they publish, some of which extend all the way back to the late 1930s, will be starting over this September. All of them. Superman. Batman. Jonah Hex. Everybody gets a fresh start. It’s like a group of editors at DC sat around at lunch one day being sad about Arrested Development’s cancellation and realized that their comics were also self-referential and continuity dependent.
Why are they doing this? For attention, mostly. The announcement brought a lot of media coverage, and the hope is to turn it all into increased sales. By starting over, DC is trying to make their most famous properties appeal to a broader audience by dumping 70 years of baggage and declaring that everything old is new again. They are accentuating the positives and asking you to overlook the historical hiccups that seem silly or incongruent. Readers can also jump in now and not be concerned that they’ll misunderstand a reference to a story that happened in 1972.
DC refers to this move as a “relaunch,” and that’s what LeBron needs to do with his ever-precious brand. Relaunch LeBron James to let the world know he’s not about what came before, only what happens from this point forward. Just like DC’s superheroes, nobody is going to pretend that the things that came before didn’t happen. Nobody who saw those things is going to have them wiped from their memory. And the long-time fans who have loved every highlight and accomplishment all along can still savor those moments. But now is now, and the past won’t be an anchor or a measuring stick. LeBron could send the signal that if you never liked him before, if you liked him but came to hate him, or if you’re ready for him to finally live up to expectations, he’s ready to try again with everyone.
How would LeBron pull off such a move? Let me tell it straight to LeBron.
“Lebron, for starters, never again talk about your brand. Stop it. Don’t talk about hanging out with Warren Buffet or the things he’s said. Don’t talk about being the first billionaire athlete. And don’t ever, ever talk about your talents or where you’re taking them.”
“You don’t need to go into a personality coma like Gilbert Arenas tried to do, but you need to relax the notion that you’re a business man and just let us see you as man with a cool job.”
“No more fireworks. No more celebrating after wins until you win it all.”
“Bring back the chalk toss. People like it.”
“Here are some good words you should use: try, work, effort, teammates, help, thanks, appreciated, and dedication. Here are some words that you should avoid: LeBron James, selfish, Jordan, legacy, friends, me, my, myself, destiny, dominate, best, leader, take over, pressure, and villain. They just won’t help you.”
“Play the game when you’re on the court and play it well. Don’t decide that you’re going to be a passer or a scorer, do both. Don’t defer if another player has it going, be the ‘two’ in a one-two punch.”
“Make sure that for each three-pointer you attempt, you’ve twice driven into the lane.”
“Support and respect your coach.”
“I’m telling you these things because I like you. I believe you can be a champion, but I don’t want to hear anymore that you believe it, too. Don’t talk about it, just do it (to borrow your sponsor’s words). Let your game talk, because everybody wants to listen to that.”
Superman gets a fresh start in September. If a lockout is avoided and he gives his legacy a little thought, LeBron could relaunch in training camp at the same time.
Right along with the rest of the superheroes.