LeBron James commercial

Is LeBron’s new commercial the right move?


The latest Nike/Weiden and Kennedy/LeBron ad was widely considered a triumph, and I’ll admit that there’s a lot about it that can be admired. It deals with the elephant in the room, and it strikes a decent balance between self-deprecation and self-pity. It’s funny and honest, the “what should I do” line functions as an earnest plea and a defiant statement, and the Charles Barkley bit is all but perfect.

That said, I still don’t think the ad was the right way to begin LeBron’s “rehabilitation.” As well-done as the ad was, it was still a return to an event that LeBron will have to someday put behind him. Every time we talk about LeBron James, architect of “The Decision,” former son of Ohio, and official Controversial Person instead of LeBron James, the basketball player and reigning two-time MVP, his brand takes another hit.

As Don Draper would say: if you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation. There are probably millions of people nicer or humbler than LeBron James. Only a handful of people have ever played basketball at the level LeBron is capable of playing it at. That will always be what’s really important about LeBron, and the sooner LeBron people reminds people of that, the better.

Like Crash Davis told Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham, it really does always come down to performance: win 20 games in the show, having fungus on your shower sandals is quirky. Until you do that, it’s just gross. When a player exceeds the expectations people have of him, his quirks or lack of quirks are praised. When he fails to meet them, they’re attacked. Players who win because they have “quiet confidence,” led by example, or are exceedingly humble lose because they were too passive, or scared of the big moment. Players who won because they were “vocal leaders,” had “swagger,” or elevated their team’s level of play with the force of their personality lose because they lacked focus, or didn’t take the game seriously enough. Sports fans are willing to cut endless amounts of slack to athletes who perform, and have no love for those who don’t. That’s how it is, and yet we continue to pretend otherwise.

If you want to see an example of what I’m talking about w/r/t “changing the conversation,” check out this Weiden and Kennedy production from 2006 (and yes, I realize I’m far from the only person to connect these two ads).

A few points:

1. That ad came out in February of 2006, which was a fair amount of time after Kobe was accused of sexual assault and Shaq may or may not have left town because Kobe told the Laker front office that he wouldn’t re-sign with the team unless Shaq was traded first. (Before people start yelling, remember that a lot of people actually resented Kobe for the latter alleged deed more than they resented him for the former one, and almost everyone believed that Kobe had a lot to do with Shaq leaving. There’s been some revisionist history on this, but at the time Phil Jackson had a book out saying that Kobe made the Lakers choose between trading Shaq and losing him in free agency. A lot of people believed this.)

2. Remember that both of Kobe’s (possible) transgressions happened behind closed doors — nobody really knows what happened in that hotel room, and very few people really know why Shaq had to leave town. Everyone knows exactly what happened with “The Decision,” because, you know, it was on television. It’s a lot easier to forgive something we never actually saw happen in the first place. (Counter-point to this: Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson both found success and cults of personality after the Palace Brawl, and there was very little ambiguity about what happened there. Again, play well for a team that exceeds expectations and things tend to work themselves out.)

3. Again, look at how that ad changes the conversation. This ad came out when Kobe was scoring around 35 points a game for a middling playoff contender and people were wondering whether his biggest problem was ball-hogging, and Nike ran with that as fast as they could and set up that narrative. The commercial makes the conversation about basketball — there’s no option for “I really like your game on every conceivable level, and think your style of play is the right fit for your team as it currently stands, but remain uneasy about exactly what happened in Colorado and think you had a significant role in making Shaq leave town.” Love my game, hate my game. Kobe’s back on the top of the hill now, and while that ad wasn’t as significant as, say, the Gasol trade, it was a heck of a first step.

It’s very hard for us to admit that we were wrong about somebody. It’s very easy for us to believe that somebody changed. At this point, I don’t think fans would forgive “The Decision” if it was revealed that the only way a nuclear way could be prevented was for Jim Gray to be somehow involved in LeBron’s free agency decision. But if LeBron gives us something, anything different to go on and wins a championship with the Heat, we’ll fall over ourselves to talk about the “New LeBron” — heck, LeBron 2.0 could pick up momentum if the heat start the season 20-4 and LeBron makes lots of serious faces. If LeBron moves forward, he’ll be fine as long as he doesn’t come up short again on the court. But if he keeps going back to “The Decision” for forgiveness, understanding, or simply to have his apology accepted, his reputation is just going to continue to take a beating.

Archie Goodwin requests trade, Suns waive him

PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 13:  Archie Goodwin #20 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball in the second half of the NBA game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Talking Stick Resort Arena on April 13, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Clippers 114 - 105.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Archie Goodwin had been stuck behind better guards with the Suns, most notably Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight.

But when Goodwin lost playing time to someone better and younger – Devin Booker – it became time to exit Phoenix.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough complied.

Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:

McDonough said they did not see a way Goodwin would play meaningful time in a fourth Suns season.

“We told Archie Goodwin and his agent at the end of last season that if there wasn’t going to be an opportunity for him to play going into the last year of his deal, that we would try to help him get to a good spot,” McDonough said. “We explored some trade scenarios throughout the summer and into the fall. We tried to help him get elsewhere in a trade.“

Unable to fulfill a trade request from the Goodwin camp, the Suns waived the 22-year-old

This allows Phoenix to keep two players without guaranteed salaries, John Jenkins and Derrick Jones Jr.

Jenkins, the No. 23 pick in the 2012 draft, previous played for the Hawks and Mavericks. He looks like a good spot-up shooter and shot well from beyond the arc in Phoenix after being claimed on waivers last season. But he was dreadful from beyond the arc in Dallas and has had other lulls prior. Despite quality defensive rebounding for a shooting guard, he’s a defensive minus.

Undrafted out of UNLV, Jones is a phenomenal athlete. But he needs to develop his skills and, at 6-foot-7 and 190 pounds, his body. He’s an intriguing project.

So was Goodwin, but the guard didn’t progress enough in three NBA seasons. He remains a lousy 3-point shooter and unreliable defender. His ability to penetrate goes only so far without better finishing or floor vision.

Goodwin’s athleticism and raw tools could convince a team to take a flier on him. But he has a long way to go to being a helpful NBA player. The team that knows him best being willing to let him walk says something.

PBT Podcast: Predicting NBA playoffs, Finals. Yes, meaning Warriors vs. Cavaliers

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts to a foul call during the fourth quarter as LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on in Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Golden State Warriors vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Like virtually every other prognosticator, we at PBT are predicting that as the NBA Finals as well.

Is having the same teams in three straight Finals good for the league? Which teams could get in the way of that rematch? Kurt Helin and Dane Carbaugh of NBCSports.com discuss just that, including the Celtics, Spurs, and Clippers. They also talk surprise teams and the log jams in both conferences after you step back from the top few teams on each side. There’s a lot to cover.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Warriors, TNT to begin NBA season with tribute to Craig Sager

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13:  Honoree Craig Sager accepts the Jimmy V Award for Perserverance onstage during the 2016 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — The Golden State Warriors and TNT will begin the season with a tribute to sideline reporter Craig Sager, who is battling leukemia.

TNT will unveil a T-shirt during its Tuesday night studio show that was inspired by the suit Sager wore while receiving the Jimmy Valvano Award at this year’s ESPY Awards. Proceeds from the sale of the shirt will benefit the SagerStrong Foundation .

The Warriors will then give their fans at their season opener against San Antonio a Sager Strong T-shirt. The team also will play a message in the arena supporting his fight.

The popular reporter, best known for his colorful suits, won’t be able to work the game as he continues treatment for the disease.

He also designed a special edition Nike sneaker, and 100 pairs will be available via online auction beginning Tuesday through Nov. 4. A portion of the proceeds from the auction will benefit the SagerStrong Foundation.

Before season starts, watch top 10 dunks of preseason

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Starting Tuesday night, the games matter. The dunks matter.

But before we move onto those dunks, let’s have some fun with the top 10 dunks of the meaningless preseason. They may not matter, but they certainly were fun.

Of course there are some expected highlights — can you have a dunk reel without Russell Westbrook? — but game-winning dunks always get the top slot.