If there’s one thing Twitter has done for the world of sports and sports media, it has taken down some of the walls between athletes and the public.
Back in the days when an athlete’s primary communication with fans came through the filter of an interviewer, that’s exactly how it was: filtered. But in the era of Twitter and viral media outlets like YouTube and UStream, athletes are willing to say things in their own comfort zone that they probably wouldn’t say with somebody else’s tape recorder and unknown intentions in front of them.
Case in point: LeBron James‘ Twitter post last night.
“Don’t think for one min that I haven’t been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone!”
Assuming this was actually from LeBron — don’t yet rule out the old celebrity move of claiming your Twitter account was hacked if one of your posts gets an unexpectedly negative response — this went against his M.O.
For LeBron, who has been a public figure since he was about 15 and seemingly media-trained years before that, it was a jarring break from his usual diplomacy. The same guy who watched Cleveland fans burn his jersey on July 8 and didn’t break from his measured tone and “let them down easy” responses, on August 10 snapped at the legions of people who have bashed him with words in the media, with smart-ass tee shirts online, and pretty much anywhere else you’ll find basketball fans.
And of course, by directly addressing his haters, LeBron only created more. Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he does. But the shots LeBron acknowledged last night won’t stop until he’s got an NBA championship — and a Finals MVP, just to quell the notion that D-Wade is better than him — in his possession.
All summer I’ve been accused of “dick-riding” LeBron because I defended “The Decision,” supported his move to Miami, shot down the ridiculous notion that the two-time reigning MVP has somehow become a sidekick/role player to D-Wade, and even argued the Cavs organization needs to suck it up and retire his #23 someday.
In reality, I think I’ve simply been able to realize LeBron is a human being and not a basketball card or a movie character.
So much of the criticism levied at LeBron comes from people who only looked at the basketball part of his free agency; who forgot that this is a man deciding where and with whom he is going to live and work for the next half-decade of his life, not just a fantasy owner deciding which roster looks the best. Others wanted LeBron to stay in the role of solo hero, and lost respect for him when LeBron went against typecasting for the ideal sports movie ending. They wanted LeBron to be Jimmy Chitwood in Hoosiers, but he transferred to the antagonist big-city high school instead.
With this latest Twitter development, I find myself defending LeBron again. Was it smart PR to write what he did? Not at all. But he nonetheless committed a wholly human act. How many of us will fret, stew and snap over one piece of criticism by an outsider? Imagine if the criticism was coming at you in waves of thousands. Would you take mental notes? Would you vow to exact payback? Would you use social media — the same thing you use to tell the world you just ate some Rice Krispies — to make your payback plans public? Of course. You’re only human. So is LeBron. And I’m not going to take a shot at him for that.
But he needs to hurry up and win that damn championship.