|Some kids may have to settle for LeBron's older shoe due to the cost of the lastest LeBron X. (Getty Images)|
LeBron James doesn't need the freakish genetic code that came to him like a lucky lottery ticket. Not today. At the moment he needs something you earn, not something you acquire at birth.
LeBron James needs the benefit of the doubt.
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LeBron's shoe price hasn't been established yet, but let's rip him anyway for it. Read More >>
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Problem is, he hasn't earned it. Not from me, and not from lots of you. And that's why many of us are sickened by the latest news out of his camp:
The $315 shoes.
The price is in dispute, but not the extravagance. Maybe the highest-end version of the LeBron X will retail for $290, maybe $310. Nike has issued a statement that says the LeBron X "will be launched in the fall at a suggested retail price of $180," but that's a misdirection that will fool only those who want to be fooled. A $180 version is coming out, sure. But so is a $290 or $315 version. That price hasn't been set yet because Nike is figuring out how much it can charge and get away with. That's how business works, and that's what this shoe is. It's business. Am I anti-capitalism? Not at all.
But today, again, I'm anti-LeBron.
Because the guy doesn't get it, even now. With the help of his slick new marketing folks he comes off as a guy who gets it most of the time, but every now and then the real LeBron comes out, and that guy doesn't get it. He still uses kids as pawns, whether it's the Boys & Girls Club he held up like a human shield when he went on national television to announce he was taking his narcissism to South Beach -- or whether it's this. Shoes most of his young fans can't afford.
Shoes a young LeBron James himself couldn't have afforded.
That's why this story turns my stomach. If James were somebody else -- if he were, say, Kobe Bryant, the son of a professional basketball player -- I'd have to find another reason to hate these shoes. And maybe I'd fail. Maybe if it were Kobe being Kobe, blithely marketing $300 shoes for children who live the affluent childhood he once lived, I'd let it slide. That's a hypothetical, so I'm done wasting time on it.
What's real is this:
LeBron James, 27, just put his name on a pair of shoes that 14-year-old LeBron James couldn't have bought.
This is world-class greed and corporate cluelessness, something we never saw even from Michael Jordan himself. In 1985 Nike released the first pair of Air Jordans for the whopping price of $65, and that's not me being sarcastic. In 1985, $65 was a whopping price. Ask your parents for a pair of Air Jordans, as some my friends did in 1985, and you'd get laughed out of the living room. In today's money, with inflation factored in, those $65 Air Jordans in 1985 would sell for about $140 in 2012.
That's a whopping price today, $140 for a pair of shoes.
And the priciest version of the LeBron X will go for more than twice that.
See, he doesn't get it. Even now. After all that has happened, LeBron James is the same guy who would break his hometown's heart on national TV, and do it with about 50 kids from the Greenwich, Conn., Boys & Girls Club in the background as a cloak for his own ego and avarice. He's the same guy who would sit behind a microphone after the 2011 NBA Finals, when the Heat lost and much of America rejoiced, and taunt that portion of America by reminding them that he's still LeBron James -- and they're not.
"They have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today," James said last June.
Same guy, different verse, hawking a $315 shoe. LeBron and his handlers know they'll fool his biggest demographic -- those who want to be fooled -- and figure the rest of us don't matter.
Haters gonna hate, right?
Meanwhile, poor kids are gonna find a way to buy the $315 LeBron X. Some of them, the dorks and losers, will settle for the $180 brand that doesn't come with the bells and whistles and street cred of the most expensive version, which will apparently tell a kid more than his quickness or vertical leap. The $315 version will also tell a kid he's cool, he's secure, he's valuable because he's wearing shoes that other kids want.
And there's merit in that, come to think of it. Self-esteem at any age is valuable, but for a kid it's priceless.
But LeBron is willing to put a price on it. Your self-esteem is worth $315, check payable to Nike, royalties due to King James.
LeBron is trading on the most vulnerable part of his fan base: their self-image. He knows there are kids out there who will do whatever it takes to slip their feet into the same shoes worn by LeBron. How does a poor family, the kind of family in which LeBron grew up -- born to a single mother, LeBron and his teen-aged mom moving from apartment to apartment, LeBron spending chunks of time with other relatives because his mom couldn't feed him -- scratch up the three bills for a pair of LeBron X shoes?
Nike doesn't know, and LeBron doesn't care.
And if this entire column comes off as mean or unfair to LeBron, I understand that. But you understand this: A man has to earn the benefit of the doubt, and an NBA title or gold medal will fool only those who want to be fooled.