A tumultuous season has come to end for LeBron James, and whether he likes it or not, there are a great number of fans who were happy to see him fail to win a ring and have poor showings in the Finals.
James hasn't committed a crime or overtly wronged anyone. He was a free agent and was therefore free to join any team of his choosing. He decided to play for the Miami Heat, a warm-weather city that had a well-respected owner and a 2006 NBA Championship banner hanging from the rafters.
Yet he has been branded a villain for his this move. Many fans and those involved in the NBA were bothered by the way an Ohio-born athlete left blue-collar Cleveland for glitzy Miami and by going on nation television to do it. James didn't help himself by joining forces with two other superstars, in what looked like he was chickening out of trying to win a ring as a lone superstar. He also could have asked to be traded so that Cleveland would have received compensation for their loss.
In Miami, there was a big show for James and teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, a shoe commercial poking fun of the theatrics that involved his move to South Beach, conversations about crying in the locker room, an accidental bumping of head coach Erik Spoelstra on his way to the bench, jabs at Cleveland, mocking Dirk Nowitzki for his 101-degree fever, his fourth quarter collapses, and taking a shot on critics and fans who were happy the Heat lost in a post-Game Six press conference.
Overall, James has had some terrible public relations. It was just one year ago that James was a darling of the basketball world. He was considered a fierce competitor and a fun-loving guy.
All that was washed away after he made his decision.
After coming up short in the Finals, James needs an image makeover this off-season.
Here are some thoughts about what he should do:
Distance yourself from your advisers. The people who have been in James's ear probably never explained to him that last summer's actions would result in him going from being loved to being hated. Might be time to find a new crew, or at least find people who can outline better advice.
Study Magic Johnson. Perhaps the most charismatic athlete in the history of sports, Magic Johnson was beloved not for dunking or blocking shots, but for his winning attitude, his unselfishness, as well as his tremendous point guard skills. At about the same height as Johnson, James is a very good distributor and ball handler. But Johnson made the players around him better, and played with almost unparalleled desperation to win. Off the court, James can learn from Johnson's warm and sincere personality.
Start taking the high road. Whether James knows it or not, he's considered a spoiled brat in many people's eyes, and they want to hear more humility out of him. When receiving criticism, James should rise above it, instead of sounding defensive. He should admit mistakes, and perhaps commit some act of goodwill towards the city of Cleveland.
Play and act like a winner. On the court, James needs to channel his most competitive spirit and show that he is more than just a high-flying sideshow and more about being a man on a mission. James should make an effort to be a better teammate, and want to carry the team on his shoulders by demanding the ball in the fourth quarter.
James is only 26 years old. There are plenty of great years left for him to win championships.
But in the meantime, he should make an effort to win back fans with his character.