Thursday, July 8th, 2010

LeBron James: Ultimate Millennial

HE'S HEATING UPLeBron James is 25 years old. If he had gone to college and completed all four years, he would have graduated in 2007. Think of the people you know who are that age, think of the decisions they make and how they carry themselves, take a quick glance through their Facebook tagged pictures, and then imagine them with hundreds of millions of dollars and the freedom to do whatever they want. Do they seem like super well adjusted people who are driven enough to have excelled in their vocation, if they had skipped college and had been working for the last 7 years, to have elevated themselves to the third or fourth best person in their field? Probably not.

LeBron James is announcing his decision tonight regarding with which team he will play for the next 3-to-5 years. At 9 p.m., there'll be an hour long live special airing on ESPN called 'The Decision,' in which LeBron does or does not confirm his move to Miami. This has made some people very heated and upset! Why is he making such a spectacle of this whole process? He's obsessed with attention, how annoying and despicable! What an asshole! Well, okay, sure, he probably wanted some of the attention. But the way LeBron has acted through this free agent process, and really the greater part of his career, is less a product of him being the biggest attention-monger of all time, but a product of the culture and time period he was brought up in.

Millenials are indecisive!

Some people are mad that LeBron doesn't just quickly re-sign with his hometown team in Cleveland and play out the rest of his career with the team that drafted him, the Cavaliers. Larry Bird did it! Magic Johnson did it! Michael Jordan almost did it! These same people don't understand why he's making a fuss about the decision at all. This is the kinda false "what about the loyalty" argument.

HE'S ON FIREThose same people though forget that LeBron is a confused 25-year-old kid. (I don't want to speak in generalities on behalf of all Millennials, but for the sake of explaining myself, I'm going to have to do it a lot here, sorry!) We're a generation that's been told that we can do anything that we want, and on top of that, we've been brought up to believe that we should never settle for anything less than the best. As a result, we often think that in the 25th hour, there's always something a little better that's going to crop up.

As a result, you can imagine that a kid like Lebron, who has not only been brought up to think like that, but has actually achieved-for the most part-being the best, you know, in the world, would be indecisive and stress over this decision. LeBron is entering his personal prime; he may never be in better shape physically to play basketball. After this whole free agency exercise, he will have no more excuses. If he doesn't win now, after having picked his team, picked his teammates, anything less than a championship is going to be a disappointment. That's a lot of pressure!

In the last week, reports have come out that many sources are "certain" that he was going to go to: Chicago, Miami, New Jersey (for a second), staying in Cleveland, then Chicago again, Miami again, New York, Cleveland, Chicago, New York, then finally this morning, people are going big on Miami again. I don't think these sources were wrong! In fact, they were probably all right. I'm not saying we should feel sorry for this guy who is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but it seems to me that he's legitimately confused.

Millennials are hyper self-aware! AND/OR People are very vocal these days!

There's another camp of people out there who think that LeBron is delaying his decision to build drama, that this entire protracted public deliberation has been a marketing plan for himself because he wants the attention. I think it's a natural conclusion to reach. because we've never seen any sort of hullabaloo like this before around a sports player and his decision to play on a particular team. Compound that with the fact that LeBron once foolishly admitted on the record that he has goals of being a "global icon" and it's easy to paint LeBron as a super egomaniacal guy. To that I would argue that LeBron is no more egomaniacal than the rest of us his age. And furthermore, a large part of the excessive event-ness may very well be a product of the state of today's media/"media," rather than a larger self serving plan by LeBron himself. Everyone wants in on the LeBron game.

IT MUST BE THE SHOESKids today (get off my lawn!) think about personal brand management. They probably don't call it that, because they're kids and unless they're publicists, they're not usually into using such buzzwords, but the fact remains that young people today have a lot more outward-facing public personalities with which they try to gain attention and favor. Instead of just caring about dressing a certain way, now you have to make sure your Facebook profile is socially acceptable, your Twitter, your Tumblr, and your whatever. The things you post on these places makes you inherently much more self aware and adds a pressure to what you're associated with. Sure, you like The Mentalist and will talk about it on Twitter, but you don't necessarily like it enough to "fan" it on Facebook, because that might be a little much, although you can still put clips of it up on your Tumblr. Today, teens have varying tiers of which they will publicly associate with The Mentalist!

Now realize that LeBron has been hardwired with this built-in self-scrutiny and has had all of his major decisions been public ones for almost a decade. Now he's about to make a choice that will be dissected for the rest of his career. His self awareness, and most likely the large number of people talking in his ear, make this free agent decision more than just "Where am I going to work and live for the next three-to-five years?" but a bigger question about his legacy, his place in NBA history. This does not seem fun! Again: this is not meant to invoke pity for LeBron, but more to suggest that his behavior through this whole process may not have been just to serve his own ego.

As far as what the big deal that the media has made this, isn't that more a testament to our culture now? 24-hour news cycles, as they like to call them, and the Internet as a whole, already make non-story molehills into mountains, but pageview gaming and Twitter take that to an even more heightened level.

A recent example is this phenomenon is this year's World Cup. Although the tournament itself wasn't necessarily better-in fact the early rounds were definitely worse from a talent/gameplay perspective-everyone wanted to talk about it on Twitter. Whether it was the guy who wanted to seem clever by making a vuvuzela joke or the girls who wanted to earn boyish street cred by feigning interest in this fringe sport played by cute guys, the World Cup was way more prevalent in the social stream of our lives than it had ever been before.

The LeBron news cycle is cranked up with this same social media amplification. So even if we didn't want to know about all of the little sea changes of LeBron's whims, we were subject to them because Twitter gave everyone a platform. Players, other athletes, reporters, totally random people: we heard their take, which then made everyone else want to share their opinion and join the conversation.

A Sidebar

Early in Kobe Bryant's career, he put out a half-baked rap song and music video that featured Tyra Banks. And really, that's the difference between Kobe and LeBron. Kobe didn't have to deal with YouTube, he didn't have to worry about Deadspin, PTI, SportsNation making talking points out of it, or deal with the fact that a video like that would probably have been insanely viral on the internet. Do you think LeBron could put out this video? No way. But more to the point, LeBron would never think to do that, because he's too aware of his own brand. For future reference: LeBron's rap song will feature Jay-Z on the third verse, Drake on the hook, and will be produced by Kanye West.

Millennials are celebrity conscious!

Today, we just have more celebrities than ever. The internet has made it easier for people to get famous and for their fans to find them. Are you into comedy? You don't have to just aspire to just be either Dane Cook or Jerry Seinfeld, but if you're into more alternative stuff, you can align yourself with a Zach Galifianakis. Too popular after The Hangover? Want a little more indie-cred? Go Louis CK. Maybe more actor-y and less stand up comedian-y? Adam Scott it is. There are options out there.

BOOM SHAKA LAKALeBron is no different. Whereas Kobe looked up to Michael Jordan, Magic, or Dr. J, LeBron's modeled himself after not only MJ but luminaries in other fields. One of LeBron's most often cited inspirations is Jay-Z. LeBron was in middle school when Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt was released, he was in high school when The Blueprint came out, his formative years were shaped by watching a rapper transform himself from a popular musician into a global icon-and enterprise. Jay-Z leveraged his charisma and ability to rap better than everyone else into owning his own liquors, clubs, a clothing line, a consulting company, a basketball team. Lebron's decisions now reflect this influence to be more than "just" a successful athlete. That's why LeBron started his own marketing company, that's why LeBron counts Warren Buffett as an adviser, and that's why he is so mindful of how his brand is navigated.

At the core, this is what frustrates so many people: why does LeBron put out a documentary about himself in the offseason instead of figuring out more post-up moves? Why is LeBron in Jay-Z's music videos and on stage with Drake and Young Jeezy at their concerts, when he should be studying up on how to avoid situations where he's forced to go 1-on-4 against the Celtics defense? Michael Jordan never let extracurricular happenings get in the way of him being the best (and most winningest) basketball player of all time. Kobe Bryant hasn't done that on his way to five championships (and it's definitely worth noting that both of them had serious off the court scandals involving their home life and the law).

But LeBron isn't like Kobe or Michael, for better or for worse. When LeBron finally chose a Twitter name, he picked "King James," which is the way he's branded by Nike. When LeBron makes his decision for which team he's going to during free agency, he does it by way of a live ESPN one-hour special.

It's unclear as to how LeBron's career will play out, because the first millennials are just now starting to struggle through their positions of power-see Mark Zuckerberg, for one. It's hard to say whether or not he'll reach the potential that's been touting him up so hard. But the same could probably be said for the rest of our generation as well.

83 Comments / Post A Comment

brianvan (#149)

LeBron James is lazy and doesn't want a job at all, says Baby Boomers.

k-rex (#2,909)

I could have played basketball if the Baby Boomers hadn't messed it all up, says Gen X. If I wanted to.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

As both a millennial and a male Daily Show fan, the Awl has had me pulling my collar quite a bit the past few days.

David Cho (#3)


Bunx05 (#1,625)

As someone who falls in your categories, I agree. This week has made me rethink my self image.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

*I'm sure he was talking about the "collar" on his Dunks, Cho. -AIR JORDAN 4EVA-

deepomega (#1,720)

"Tuggin' the tongue on my aye eff one"

So Cho there are no female comedians for little girls to look up to and emulate a career trajectory?

metoometoo (#230)

It's too dangerous to mention any, since we'd probably just work ourselves up into a jealous rage.

blueprint (#2,019)

This is easily the fairest, most reasonable article on "The Decision" I've seen.

Unless, of course, he elects to leave Cleveland. Then, he's an egomaniac who I'll be taunting about his mother's crack addiction whenever he comes back to play against the Cavs.

Part of the problem–to me, anyway–is that this one hour presser devoted to LeBron James' decision reeks of some kind of branding/publicist/advertising strategy and smells less like LeBron James, the man, and ESPN serves as an enabler; a group that feeds the attention-holics whatever they want, then shoves it down the sporting public's throat, even if it is a complete stinker of a strategy. A number of fans and others are incensed–though they will quickly forgive and forget– with a network dedicating an hour to something that should only take 5-10 minutes.

I've read somewhere recently (I think at Where's Darko?) that a lot of the folks on James's branding team are his friends from high school, most of them leaving bad impressions during interviews with potential suitors for James by asking ridiculous questions irrelevant to daily basketball operations. If that's true, it's not surprising that they've made such a blunder, and it won't help James's popularity with fans outside of city X at a time when basketball is the best it's been since the early 90s, and a mild mannered youngster in OKC that will push James for the title of GOAT when it is all said and done.

Responding to the incensed: Why should I care what ESPN dedicates an hour to? Just tune-in 45 minutes into it, or catch the 5-10 minutes on Sportscenter. Does it matter if you don't find out for a couple of minutes/hours?

petejayhawk (#1,249)

ESPN is not a news organization. ESPN is an entertainment organization masquerading as a news organization. Big difference. ESPN is devoting so much time to it because ESPN can get a lot of people to watch it, regardless of whether the actual news story is worth it.

(Also you probably meant Free Darko?)

katiebakes (#32)

I love the concept of a "Where's Darko" blog, my god.

blueprint (#2,019)

ESPN lost all credibility with me when they elected not to cover the Rothlesberger rape allegations because they didn't want to damage their access to and their "relationship" with him.

It's "Entertainment Tonight", via the "Jordan Rules" they extend to every popular athlete.

oldirtybassist (#3,630)

Eh, it's a chance to raise millions of dollars for the Boys & Girls club, and the fact of the matter is, more people will watch then most (or all) of the NBA finals games. How could ESPN not do it?

YES Free Darko! Whoops. I *want* to start a Where's Darko blog.

Also, I don't think I called it a news organization…

I meant Free Darko, however, a Where's Darko blog would be fantastic.

This would seem to be in line with an observation a colleague made on Twitter:

"Most telling detail: He said "South Beach," not "the Heat." This is a party decision, not a basketball decision. Dude's 25 and lives in OH."

This was great, and I haven't watched the NBA since MJ left. My guess is that this spectacle is more media hype than Lebron ego.

Also, is that the History Detectives guy over Jay Z's right shoulder?

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Tufuku Zuberi! (He's there doing research for an upcoming episode, where a 12-year old claims to own LeBron's first jockstrap. it's like watchin' the detectives!

Also: Millennials don't care about shares of Madison Square Garden Inc.!

Flaneur (#998)

I'm pretty media-savvy, with the Facebook and the Twitter and the whatnot, but I'm a Gen X'er and, thus, an old. And I have to say, I find it hard to imagine coming of age in this all-connected, nothing-hidden time. I mean, I wrote letters! In college, I made use of an actual, printed-and-bound facebook! If I'd had to conduct my teens-to-20s fumbling in full view of my peers and the world at large, I–don't know what. Might have gone really well or really, really poorly.

As for LeBron: Millennial or no, having a prime-time special about your playing decision is a little tiny bit of a dick move. Still, I kind of like the guy. Hope he confounds everyone and comes to the Knicks, as much as I hate to see Jimmy Dolan having any joy.

David Cho (#3)

For what it's worth, and not to suppor the idea of the special, it's generating $2.5M for the Boys and Girls Club.

NinetyNine (#98)

I want the person who would refuse to have a one hour prime time special featuring them pondering a decision that is guaranteed to portray them in the most positive light imaginable by a full team of art directors at W+K and raising money for kids while insuring their personal net worth goes up to step forward.

Because I've known lots of disingenuous people in my life time, but I would like to see what a straight up liar looks like.

iantenna (#5,160)

i'm not sure how my decision of who to think about while masturbating today – in the bathroom, on my 15 minute break – can possibly be portrayed in a positive light, no matter how good the art directors are.

emceegee (#2,133)

It was the asking for it that bugs, not the lack of refusal.

KarenUhOh (#19)


LeBron announces he's retiring.

skahammer (#587)

"We're a generation that's been told that we can do anything that we want, and on top of that, we've been brought up to believe that we should never settle for anything less than the best."

So they suckered you in with that talk too, huh?

Generation X

garge (#736)

I fell for this and got a fine arts degree, but fool me twice &c.

"Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club"

LondonLee (#922)

Obviously not knowing where he's going I wonder how much of the "decision" is driven by marketing and not sporting concerns.

ESPN turned down my idea to film me at the supermarket checkout Friday night for a special hour called THE DECISION: PAPER OR PLASTIC?

katiebakes (#32)

Yeah but like, what's a marketing concern and what's a sporting concern these days? If he ends up being on a miserable team that goes nowhere, his bottom line will suffer too. Anyway, it seems right now like Miami is the front-runner. Which presents an interesting conundrum to all the people angrily labeling him as incredibly selfish: in Miami he'd be flanked by two other big stars, probably have to take less money, but arguably have a "good shot at winning it all." So is he still selfish for making that decision? Is that a sporting concern, at that point, or a marketing concern? Because it's gonna make him MORE famous, and net him MORE money, if that all transpires. And round and round we go. It's as circular as ESPN "confirming with various sources" that LeBron will announce his decision on … ESPN. Oh my god, come to think of it: maybe LeBron is just the human embodiment of ESPN. Oh my god, that's just it. My mind just exploded. We live in the future and the future is now and we are LeBron. We are all LeBron.

NinetyNine (#98)

So Generation Y is claiming LeBron now? How does that math work again?

katiebakes (#32)

The math is that 1983 is the cutoff year. It's actually not math, it's science.

LondonLee (#922)

@katie. I agree, going with a winning team will help his bottom line. I just remember there were all these rumours going around that Nike had forced a sick Ronaldo to play in the 1998 World Cup Final which probably weren't true but the fact that people believed them makes you think what other pressures a famous athlete is under.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

Cho is a millenial?!

katiebakes (#32)


David Cho (#3)

You are delusional.

garge (#736)

If katiebakes is delusional, I have NOTHING. [also, CLEVELAND tag?!]

katiebakes (#32)

You're right, I am delusional, because I said I agreed with everything in the post, which would mean that I agreed with THIS:

…the girls who wanted to earn boyish street cred by feigning interest in this fringe sport played by cute guys

When we're not fainting.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

Wait, Katie, aren't they the same thing? Or are you joking? It's snacktime, I can't tell when anyone is joking around snacktime.

David Cho (#3)

Katie believes that her and I are part of Generation Y, a small sliver of a generation that exists between Generation X and the Millennials. Katie is also, unfortunately, very mistaken.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Forgive me if you've done this elsewhere, katiebakes, but what's the definition of Gen Y? I was raised believing I was Gen Y, but somewhere along the line someone decided Millennial was less derivative?

alison (#14)

I think it counts, if it's 1979-1983.

NinetyNine (#98)

Katie believes that her and I are part of Generation Y, a small sliver of a generation that exists between Generation X and the Millennials. Katie is also, unfortunately, very mistaken

I thought Katie was like 24. WHERE IS MY GERITOL?

petejayhawk (#1,249)

I was born in '80 and was under the impression for many years that I was Gen X (which I thought went to '81.) Then I found out that I am more Gen Y, and was thrown for a (very small) loop. I still claim Gen X, and nobody can stop me.

Neopythia (#353)

But we can all agree the Baby Boomer suck, right?

kneetoe (#1,881)

More like generation Y2K.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

I'm getting a Kurt Cobain-sized GenX headache.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

The temptation to make a "Kurt who?" crack here is tremendous, but I wouldn't want to give any of the Olds a heart attack.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

has the ship sailed on 'the pepsi generation'? because i still support the idea of generational sponsors.

ericdeamer (#945)

1980 is cutoff. Gen Y and "Millennial" are the exact same thing. That is all.

Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment

@milesklee Well, I'm Generation Next (courtesy of Pepsi and the Spice Girls – millennial cross-branding!), but I can't afford badly-needed wrinkle reducer to compete with the Obama kids, so you tell me.

MollyBloomberg (#1,169)

Wow. I've just now realized that all this time I've been reading the comments of children. Very bright children, sure. But freakin' kids.


God I remember getting into an argument about my Gen X bona fides because I was born in 1975. This argument will stretch on forever!

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

I kinda like Katie's ideomatic "Gen Y" idea because I am born in a year (1979) that either does or doesn't make me X or millenial, so while I kinda like being able to float, it's also nice to have a name for it, maybe.

k-rex (#2,909)

It took a couple years of generational anatomists to realize they had to categorize by year and not by age. As I recall, Gen X was described as 18-35 from the time I was 16 until I was 19.

Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken

iantenna (#5,160)

and the same assholes (the olds) that feign outrage at these displays of extreme self-indulgence are the ones that created the climate that makes them inevitable. yes, boomers, it's your fucking fault that there are a million shitty bands in brooklyn. you never told them they couldn't.

oldirtybassist (#3,630)

Hey! I like that band!

Are Gen Xers olds? Already? Tempus fugit!

Cho blames the culture? Very new agey, but alas, wrong.

Since I am old school, I am blaming his Father, who is — MOTHER FUCKING BREAKING NEWS– this guy:

How did I miss this? Though I do like the side by side photos at TMZ

allyzay (#321)

I liked reading this and replacing the words "LeBron James" with "Alex Pareene" because he is also 25 and did not finish college and recently changed "teams"! This is only funny for like 5 people though. But boy what a laugh!

Maura Johnston likes this.

Ribs (#2,690)

Millenials get fucking AIR

Steve (#1,777)

The "Millenials are like [...]" meme has always seemed inapposite to me; it feels like it was entirely constructed by Gen X'ers who feel old, unfulfilled, and threatened, and to stave off the threat of a younger cadre of competition the Gen X'ers have branded those younger than them as indecisive and self-absorbed, etc.

And still no mention of this:


750 mL (#5,726)

Nailed it, David.

Bridget Callahan (#5,234)

One of the reasons some people are so incensed at LeBron for this whole drawn out spectacle crap is that even those of us in Cleveland who could not give two shits about basketball recognize the fact that now we are screwed on finding anybody else decent. Because he wanted to take his time. And fuck around with us.

Also, our twitter feeds have been virtually unreadable for the past week.

I like LeBron James in part because he seems to understand that basketball is part of the entertainment industry. So how could I be mad about this crap, which fits right in?

garge (#736)

You guys, I haven't cried over Cleveland since, possibly, pre-9/11. I am worried about my people. Hold me? Somebody?

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

I made 3 people who don't care about sports watch this!

fifaworldcup2010 (#5,953)

For more details with videos regarding this just log on to

Sam (#5,955)

Right, just so we're clear, I'm speaking from the point of a millenial AND someone outside the USA. This is the first article I've read about this whole issue, although I've been picking up hints from American people on my twitter feed.

Are you joking me? Maybe millenials are more conscious of our image, but kindly give us more credit than this.

Yes, this is a big decision for him, yes, he has a right to choose, and yes, he has a right to change his mind before signing onto a contract that will dictate the next 3-5 years of his life. For the record, I'm fully against the way some cavalier fans have been treating this, because I do believe that it should be his decision.

But that doesn't mean he has to turn this into some sort of media frenzy. I do get the argument that the media and today's 24-hour news is also to blame, but it can't be that hard to say he hasn't decided yet and to shut up. The media can't report anything if there's no new news. And there's nothing new if there's nothing being said. Do I believe he's free of blame on this matter? No. Please, as a millenial who's been in the spotlight for 7 years, he should know the way the media works and how to navigate around it or through it. If not, he has enough money to hire a damn publicist.

Living the life of a celebrity does not mean you have to make a spectacle of yourself. So he's been a millionaire since he was 18. Great for him. Now kindly grow up and stop acting like that. Having all that money is not an excuse to act like he's still 18. If he wants to have extracurricular activities that don't involve basketball, fine. But I don't care what excuses people make up, an HOUR to announce which team he's going to be on? It stinks of attention whore, money-making, or both. If he wants to be a brand-name, for goodness sake, the huge uproar from everyone should show how he's obviously not going about it the right way.

Maybe this article was not supposed to come out this way, but it really feels like it's making up excuses for this guy because society is SO TOUGH now and he has TOO MUCH MONEY. I hope you realise how ridiculous that sounds.

Also, on a side note, how the World Cup is described as a 'fringe sport played by cute guys'? I stared at that and laughed for 5 minutes straight. Maybe in America football (and when I say football I mean soccer) can be considered a FRINGE SPORT by girls who don't give two cents about sports at all, but where I come from the World Cup is the second biggest sporting event, barring only the Olympics! And I don't even live in Europe or South America. I'm pretty sure football happens to be the biggest and most popular sport in the WORLD, alright? Because not everything has to revolve around American sports, most of which I definitely wouldn't give two cents to watch.

I was just glad he implied that I was cute.

So, where is LeBron going? I seriously haven't heard yet. They teased it on the news last night and said I'd have to wait for Sports ("FU, I'm goign to bed.") I wonder if I can find out on my own somehow?

kneetoe (#1,881)

The octopus says he's a Knick.

Amy Gutman (#5,974)

Excellent piece! Really enjoyed it.

DS3M (#6,010)

You realize, of course that LeBron had his decision on what to do and where to go in place more than two years ago? It was a foregone conclusion for the Big 3 that they would be playing together; after their experience in the international qualifying competition stages leading up to the 08 olympics, the big 3 realized they wanted to be with each other, and structured their contracts in such a way to allow them to test free agency together, in the hopes of playing together on the same NBA team.

So your article falls apart on your initial "Millennials are Undecided" premise.

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