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The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

King of Icons: A Fistful of Change

If you happen to be one of the 9.95 million people who watched LeBron James’s charitably postured exercise in self-aggrandizement over the summer, you probably spent the hours and days that followed as mired in its discussion as LeBron in his Game 5 slump. Like errant shot after errant shot from James’s last game in Cleveland, most conversations about “The Decision” followed a misguided trajectory.

Almost unilaterally, the national narrative traced LeBron’s move to Miami as a definitive exhibit on all that James is not: not a leader, not a role model and, most poignantly, not a legend. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the NBA’s holy trinity of the past three decades, all specifically acknowledged the distinction that teaming with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh created between James and themselves.

Jordan’s voice carried the most weight and garnered the most attention because he was the measuring standard in the redefining process. By incessant public decree in the post-decision fallout, LeBron’s decision to take his talents to South Beach meant that King James could never be His Airness.

In the days following the announcement, analysts, anchors and writers tirelessly reiterated that regardless of his future accomplishments with the Heat, James is not, will not, and cannot be Jordan.

In the relatively silent minority of those who recognized the conclusion as irrelevant were both Jordan and, presumably, James. “But that’s… things are different” Jordan told ESPN in July. “I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.”

While Jordan’s observation of different times seems basic on the surface, his allusion to the fundamental motivation that drove him to compete suggests a more complex analysis. Jordan, notoriously competitive to a fault, will forever be defined by his desire to win, a will to conquer that persevered even after he had ascended to the status of “greatest of all time.”

Jordan’s Jumpman brand even represented this identity visually, displaying victory over gravity as the ultimate symbol of MJ’s primacy. Emerging at the Cold War’s conclusion, Jordan resonated with a society still embedded in an us-versus-them mentality. But as he noted, things are different. We should have known long before this summer that 23 did not equal 23 for a litany of reasons, the most obvious and compelling of which is that LeBron told us himself years ago.

“I want to be a global icon,” James once famously proclaimed, a bold self-identification that suggested his priorities differed significantly from Jordan’s. While Jordan embodied the values of early post-Cold War culture because of his competitive spirit, James actively seeks to reflect the predominant cultural values of our day. After all, an icon is defined as an image, sign or representation, and James has succeeded immensely in establishing himself as such.

The media obsessed over what James’s move to Miami meant without recognizing how consistently it fortified what he already was. Outrage over the distasteful nature of James’s indulgent ESPN production may have been justified, but it was undoubtedly representative of our self-absorbed, social media driven, LOOK AT ME generation. And it should have come as no surprise. James’s carefully managed marketing brand is literally dependant upon public observation – we wouldn’t be WITNESSES otherwise.

The corresponding shirts and theatrical pregame powder throws are a far cry from the triumphant Jumpman, but again that’s not the point. “The Decision” couldn’t have happened any other way because an icon requires external validation to retain meaning. Without an audience, representation is as useless as a king without a court.

Equally as important as “The Decision” to LeBron’s iconic status was the decision itself. By abandoning the hometown pressures and roster woes of Cleveland for the more temperate and talented Miami, James tacitly underscored our cultural zeitgeist in undeniably iconographic fashion.

Consider the point risen by Caryn James, in her Newsweek review of the summer blockbuster film “Inception, that we have become culturally obsessed with escapist fantasy. She argues that “Inception” follows a familiar thematic arc, writing, “On the most superficial level, these alt-universes offer audiences the appeal of an easy fix; maybe we can dream our troubles away, just as Avatar’s Jake and Lost’s Locke can leave their wheelchairs behind and walk on Pandora and the island.”

Other examples only bolster her position: the year’s highest grossing film to date, Alice in Wonderland, frames Alice’s return to Wonderland as a means of coping with her father’s death, while the Billboard chart’s #1 song for the past six weeks, Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” details the struggles of being left by a lover when a relationship goes wrong.

Perhaps most significant, James the writer notes, was President Obama’s 2008 election, the most culturally pervasive campaign in our country’s history. As the residual idealism of change and its accompanying promise of solvency still reverberate through cultural mediums, LeBron’s decision to change location actualized these concepts in a verbally genuine manner – globally and iconically.

Miami represents LeBron’s metaphorical escape from his problems, and while of course he didn’t choose the Heat because of TV or rap music, that’s not what matters. Regardless of intention, James is exactly what he claimed to be. That’s far more remarkable than everything he is not.

Tyler Valeska is a senior majoring in English and political science.

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