2,600 pounds. 25,000 square feet of vinyl. 50 gallons of ink. That’s what it took for Cleveland to replace LeBron James.
Four months after Nike removed their iconic black and white “We Are All Witnesses” banner, the corner of Huron and Ontario once covered by James’ outstretched arms has been pasted over with a shot of Cleveland’s skyline, courtesy of hometown paint-slingers Sherwin-Williams.
“Our home since 1866. Our pride forever.” they announce, a multi-story reassurance that the closest they’ll ever get to South Florida is a muted shade of blue called “Miami Waters.”
Although their new banner is printed in black and white, Sherwin-Williams prides itself on an ability to match their paint to whatever color sample or fabric swatch you can give them. If they aimed their trademarked spectrophotometer toward the Cavaliers jilted fan base, the ones about to start their first LeBron-less season since 2002, it would probably see several examples of color #SW6020 — “Marooned” — or maybe #SW7062, “Rock Bottom.”
Over the weekend, James suggested that Cleveland fans “get over” his July departure for the Miami Heat and, bless both ventricles of their still-bitter little hearts, they’re trying. It started with the de-Witnessing of the corner across from the Q Arena. The Cavs’ official Team Shop has removed all of the LeBron merch from their Web site and on Tuesday the Rover’s Morning Glory radio show hired a witch doctor to help exorcise any lingering LeDemons. “With a little voodoo and a pinch of evil, perhaps we’ll be able to permanently de-throne the ‘King’”, they said before their on-air hexing.
The most recent reason that Ohio’s drive-time radio was extra unsettling was Monday's debut of LeBron’s newest Nike ad, a 90-second, nine-costume spot called ‘Rise.’ Leave it to Nike to attempt to Heimlich one of their athletes’ gasping reputations. This is the same company that brought us April's weirdo Tiger Woods commercial, the one with the most disturbing dead father hallucination since Field of Dreams.
“In 'Rise,' we amplify LeBron’s voice,” Davide Grasso, Nike’s Vice President of Global Brand Marketing said in a news release. “We’re celebrating his courage to forge his own journey, even when others may have disagreed with his decisions. It’s this Just Do It spirit that defines LeBron and Nike as we strive to inspire all young athletes.”
The problem with Grasso’s biz speak — no doubt typed in Times New Roman — is that ‘Rise’ isn’t about athletes, plural. It’s about one athlete and his attempt to justify an entire summer’s worth of off-court drama that started with ‘The Decision,’ his self-indulgent hour-long ESPN special and won’t end until he stops bringing it to everyone’s attention.
In ‘Rise,’ LeBron plays a one-man Village People, dressing up like a cowboy and a construction worker. He quotes Maya Angelou. He brings Don Johnson and his rumpled linen suit out of retirement. And he uses ad agency Weiden + Kennedy’s award-winning copywriters to help him extend both middle fingers toward his critics, while trying to sell a few pairs of LeBron 8 basketball shoes in the process.
As a commercial, it’s incredible. It’s unexpected, quotable and another W+K classic, joining their other 30-second masterpieces like “Bo Knows,” Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon, and Charles Barkley’s “I am not a role model” spot, which they allow LeBron to winkingly lampoon. LeBron’s performance is spot-on, but we knew he could act — just remember his elbow injury during the Cavs-Celtics playoff series.
As an attempt to justify LeBron’s behavior, it fails miserably, especially when it comes to the timing. It dropped one day before the season begins, was to air during TNT’s opening night coverage of the Heat-Celtics game and will, again, ensure that he snags all the headlines (and a handful of NBCSports.com columns) for something other than playing basketball.
From "Rise": “What should I do? Should I admit that I’ve made mistakes?”
At this point, who cares? After “The Decision” aired in July, he never felt like he owed anyone an apology and didn’t offer any more explanations after he stopped fidgeting with his $16,000 watch and stepped out of camera range.
“Should I tell you how much fun we had [in Cleveland]?”
He could. Or maybe he could tell the Cavs fans why he walked off the court during the fourth quarter of what would prove to be his final home game, a 120-88 stomping by the Celtics.
“What should I do?” he asks repeatedly, between wardrobe changes, and your own answer may vary depending on what part of the country you call home. The resounding answer from some of Cleveland’s blogs — such as Waiting for Next Year — are that LeBron (or LeChoke or LeDive or LeQuit or whichever vaguely French-sounding insult they’re using today) should go eff himself.
“Should I be who you want me to be?” (as he slam-dunks)
Yes. I, personally, want you to play basketball, LeBron. Because you’re incredible at it, accumulating stats and records faster than Lindsay Lohan collects court appearances. You should let your game speak for you, not a team of Portland’s finest copywriters.
And, starting now, you should let Cleveland move on. They have a new coach in Byron Scott, a new small forward in Jamario Moon and 25,000 square feet of new scenery across the street. Let them switch to the other side of the Sherwin-Williams color spectrum, to start seeing shades like “Mild Blue” and “Rosy Outlook” and — eventually — “Hopeful.”
PBT: The Pacers were too tough for the Knicks, but Miami is a different animal. The clubs face off in the East finals, starting Wednesday night.
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