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Price of LeBron's shoes really has nothing to do with James' character

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Just because LeBron sells an expensive shoe doesn't mean he's a bad guy. (Getty Images)  
Just because LeBron sells an expensive shoe doesn't mean he's a bad guy. (Getty Images)  

It's been quite a year for LeBron James. All he did was win his first NBA championship, rehabilitate his public image, capture his second gold medal and incredibly not offend anyone while doing it.

But you knew that couldn't last long. You knew it was only a matter of time before LeBron did something foolish to rile up the masses. And if he didn't, someone would come up with something.

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So what did LeBron do now that’s so egregious? Well, his name is on a pair of Nike shoes that could retail for as much as $315. The price hasn't been established yet, but let's rip him anyway for it. That's how LeBron logic works these days.

The $315 price -- or $280, or $290, whatever it may be, we'll get the facts sorted out later -- would be for a tricked-out version of the shoes, featuring motion-sensing technology and other gadgets that I personally don't want on my shoes. The suggested retail price for the base model of the LeBron X will be $180, Nike says. That's $40 more than Nikes bearing the names Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, and $5 less than the low-top and mid-top versions of the Nike Kobe VII System, according to Nike's website.

Never mind that there's already a limited edition LeBron 9 retailing for $215 and an elite version for $250, right there on Nike's website. I guess those prices are OK.

What does all this have to do with the price of corn? Not a thing. What does it have to do with what kind of guy LeBron is, or how much he cares about kids or youth or the American way? It doesn't have anything to do with that, either.

Because if it did, then Durant -- perhaps the most universally liked and admired star in the NBA -- would be a really bad guy. Why? His authentic jersey retails on NBAStore.com for $259.99, and that's just too damn high. Shame on him for that.

If it did, then Michael Jordan would be the worst guy ever. (Worst executive, yes, but that's another story that has nothing to do with shoes.) Jordan hasn't played since 2003, yet his authentic jersey goes for a whopping $299.99. He's still putting out shoes that bear his name and likeness that retail for $250 and up -- not to mention retro Air Jordans that sell for thousands at exclusive auctions.

Derrick Rose's signature Adidas shoe retails for $110, but I guess that's OK; I don't hear anybody complaining. Adidas has soccer cleats sponsored by David Beckham that sell for $106 and up online, but nobody cares about soccer -- or David Beckham, anymore.

If any of this had anything to do with anything, then the patron saint of all that is good and pure about basketball and capitalism would be, quite unanimously, Stephon Marbury.

In 2006, Marbury was widely applauded for coming out with a line of affordable basketball shoes -- Starbury Ones -- that retailed for $14.98. With one shrewd marketing move, Marbury obliterated his image as the walking, talking symbol of self-centered, petulant, NBA entitlement into that of a hero for the working class and poor who couldn't afford $100 basketball shoes. It was a noble concept that opened up a new market for kicks, but it said no more about what kind of guy Marbury was than LeBron's $300 (or $180) shoes say about him.

In the years after the Starbury line of shoes and apparel came out, Marbury's basketball career spiraled into oblivion. He feuded with Knicks president-turned-coach Isiah Thomas, their relationship fracturing for good during a heated argument on the team plane. This came after Marbury's spectacular and public feud with the previous coach, Larry Brown, and before his spectacular and public feud with the next coach, Mike D'Antoni. Marbury eventually was banished from the team facilities when he refused to accept a reduced role.

We haven't even gotten to Marbury's bizarre behavior as a star witness in the infamous sexual harassment lawsuit brought against Madison Square Garden by former executive Anucha Browne Sanders, or his crazed performance in a televised interview with local TV personality Bruce Beck , or his subsequent live-streaming of his further descent into madness, which included singing incoherently and eating Vaseline.

I became an unintended participant in Marbury's sad decline when, after I'd criticized him in Newsday for his destructive behavior, he embraced me in a vice-grip at Knicks media day while repeating that he was praying for me.

I'll take all the prayers I can get, then and now, but I think we can stop here. I think we can all agree that the price of sneakers has nothing to do with anything other than the price of sneakers. To his credit, Marbury's line of affordable Starbury shoes and apparel endures, even if his positive image does not.

And if Jordan, who practically invented the shoe-worship culture, didn't have the clout or scruples to stand up to the free market, why should we expect LeBron to do it? It was Jordan, after all, who once famously said, "Republicans buy shoes, too," when asked why he refused to endorse black Democrat Harvey Gantt in a U.S. Senate race in his home state of North Carolina.

That part of the story hasn't changed, and never will. All kinds of people will pay all kinds of money for basketball shoes. Some will opt for the $180 model, others will splurge for the $300 pair, and there's still a market for the $14.98 Starburys. I won't buy any of them, and I don't suspect Gregg Doyel will, either. But it's his right to criticize, and LeBron's right to have his name on whatever shoe he wants -- at whatever price people will pay.


Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
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