By now every major basketball outlet and blog has reported on and covered Nike’s new LeBron James ad entitled “Rise.” (If not, it can be found in the previous post.) In the ad, which was created for Nike by Wieden & Kennedy and directed by Stacy Wall, James appears to directly address the audience about the events that took place in his life over the summer, namely “The Decision.” The commercial is simple and straightforward enough as its central theme just one question. James repeatedly asks the camera, “What should I do?” in various scenarios including the backdrop of “The Decision.” Yet, there is more to James’ question than how it concerns just him. Nike’s marketing and James’ own ambitions to establish himself as a global icon have yielded much more than simply an image. This pursuit has allowed individuals to implant and imprint on James their own ideals of who they want themselves to be thereby reflecting upon James the standards they believe they live by.
“What should I do?” is at the very least a rhetorical statement. It does not deserve an answer because there is no single answer. James does not need an answer, nor should the audience attempt to provide one. What happened this summer is over. As Bethlehem Shoals put it, “Do you want to live in that summer anymore? I certainly don’t…” Yet, he, like the rest of us experienced the calamity of the summer exporting on James our own issues and beliefs, not of what James should do but of what we, the audience, should do with their own lives. James simply became the embodiment of humanity’s question and his simple narrative in “Rise” only furthers that.
Davide Grasso, Vice President of Global Brand Marketing said in the press release for the ad, “We’re celebrating [James’] courage to forge his own journey even when others may have disagreed with his decisions.” Is this not the celebration of humanity as a whole? This is the American dream. It is the root of Western thought. The individual takes precedent over all else. It is the journey of the self, which every person experiences in their own way. James experienced it in a public fashion where he had become part of the journey for so many others.
A person who attains the status that James has reached frequently has the conceptual morals of hundreds of thousands, if not more, thrust upon them. James may or may not have known this prior to “The Decision” but either way it is of little concern. He has become the identity of a culture, much like Barack Obama assumed the identity of a nation, however in a completely different context. They are held to a higher standard, for better or worse, than an individual will hold themselves to. The spotlight never dims on a person who has elevated themselves to such ranks. It was this pedestal with which the media and people placed James, from an early age, which created the backlash that occurred this summer across the nation excluding Miami.
The current cover of W magazine sums up what James and his new ad embody. Kim Kardashian appears naked in a Barbara Kruger designed image that reads, “It’s all about me/I mean you/I mean me.” It is simple yet quite revealing about the cultural psyche all at the same time. Though Kruger works with feminist overtones this piece easily defines celebrity as a whole. Ms. Kardashian appearing in the nude signifies the intense scrutiny with which celebrities and prominent figures are subjected to in their everyday lives. LeBron James was, for all intents and purposes, completely naked this summer. Further, James could have easily replaced “What should I do?” with the lines Kruger has employed and garnered the same effect. With the ideals of individuals imposed upon him the lines of who he is and what the public perceive become blurred. In essence, they merge. It is all of us asking the question and making the statement. It is all of us who are at once contradictory and uncertain. It is who we are as individuals.
The ad ends with another question, “should I be who you want me to be?” This one can be answered: no. What we should want from him is to play basketball. That is what he excels at doing. Unfortunately it can never be that simple with the attention that is paid to him. Yes, this summer is over and with it the drama that it contained. Disappointment lingers, however. Is it disappointment in James or is it disappointment in ourselves, the audience, for believing and asking too much of a figure we so willingly thrust into the spotlight and anointed as the boy king. Who were we to set expectations so high? James has become more than just an athlete as he is a part of who we identify ourselves as. For as long as LeBron James remains in the spotlight we will continue to poke and prod him as we attempt to figure out who we truly are as individuals. “Rise” is simply a collective voice asking, “What should I do?”