Lebron isn’t going anywhere, but he’s not helping himself, either

“I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. “

— Lebron James, July 11, 2014, announcing he was returning to Cleveland.


It’s great that needle-moving news this days is “who star athletes unfollow on social media,” and by “it’s great,” I mean, “society is truly crumbling.”

James, in a move exemplifying what a passive-aggressive, “electronically dominant to the point of genuine social impotence” society we’ve become, unfollowed his Cleveland Cavaliers on Twitter and apparently Instagram, but the author professes zero knowledge about that platform. No news yet as to whether he’s blocked them on MySpace.

There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth about what “it means,” but really what “it means” is that James still struggles at times with how to treat his carefully cogitated celebrity, one he’s dealt with and cultivated since high school.

Lebron has re-entered this vortex of untouchability since he came back to Cleveland, mopping up the dried blood from the wounds of, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” four years earlier. Yet, stuff like this chips away at an image of a guy totally in control of his surroundings.

For one, unfollowing stuff on social media is the fodder of teenagers, not grown folks who are better served by walking into an office and closing the door to hash some details out if they are mad. For two, Lebron can do what he wants, but it seems nearly impossible to read those words two years ago (not even two full seasons ago) and see how he could justify walking away from the franchise.

People will suggest it means something (and seriously, who’s the guy stalking Lebron’s Twitter feed to find out he unfollowed the Cavs? Is this where we’re at?), but at worst, it’s a passive-aggressive move to publicly show disdain for something going on in this theater of activity.

Lebron has been handled with kid gloves in his return, and predictably so. Dan Gilbert’s scorched-earth response to James leaving and the fallout of it all clearly pissed him off … even though he eventually came back. Still, it’s hard to imagine this stuff going on under the gaze of Pat Riley in Miami, an organization that bent to no one and — if it had to — Dwyane Wade first.

Take away the nuance, and James becomes difficult to really dislike even for those people constantly trying just because those people exist.

He’s never in trouble with the law, does his requisite great things in the community, and rarely if ever utters a sketchy word about an opponent. His main transgressions include leaving for another team via an uncomfortable, self-absorbed show that even he admitted later was wrong.

And this social media stuff: Be it the passive tweets people assume are aimed at a Cleveland teammate — such as “subtweeting” whomever doesn’t give him the same energy back, or the Kevin Love tweet from last season about fitting in — it’s clear this is James’ way of airing grievances that probably are better expressed in person, without his 2 million followers to see.

Real communication comes through hard, gritty, face to face interaction. Passive-aggressive use of social media to diminish what could be a meaningful conversation seems — on the surface — unhelpful and, at minimum, a bad look. Lebron has a lot of smart people around him that, for the most part, have helped restore what was once a Teflon image.

The passive-aggressive social media stuff, though, does nothing but invite questions about their motivations. It looks somewhat juvenile, and it certainly chips away at whatever James probably wants people to think of him.

While it’s not for some idiot writing a column to tell mega-celebrities how to filter themselves and interact with their co-workers, the end result is that this sort of story can become the beginning of serious relationship problems.

Girl gets annoyed with guy for leaving dishes in the sink and the toilet seat up. She tells him. He keeps forgetting. It’s no big deal. But two years later, it’s just a symptom brought up that led to an overall bigger disease.

Lebron acknowledged it was going to be hard when he came back, and that it wasn’t going to happen overnight. He’d be mindful of those sage words when giving the impression on social media, no matter how truly false it is, that a renege on them is possible.