I knew it would happen eventually: Nike has finally figured out what to do with LeBron James. (Scroll down to watch "Rise".) Naturally, I find the ad annoying; then again I find most things James does these days to be annoying. Co-opting (and editing) Maya Angelou seems particularly obnoxious, but no one would ever credit James with being humble, no matter how many times he insists he is.
Nevertheless, it's a tidy piece of propaganda. It plays both to James' ease as a cut-up and the facility with which he can look into a camera and tell everyone exactly what they want to hear. Except for, um, that one time.
The only thing about Nike's new ad that rings false is the overdramatic - and highly fictionalized - image of the Witness banner dropping to the ground. Would that it had been as satisfying as simply (and symbolically) cutting a cord and watching it flow down the side of the building, landing in a sad gray heap to be swept aside. In reality, of course, removing it took several days of careful work, because someone bought it.
We all bought it, for a while.
The ad starts an interesting conversation: If LeBron James can ask if he should play the villain, it's fitting to ask ourselves if we should continue to play the victim. This goes way beyond basketball, to what would be Cleveland's heart if the whole place didn't feel so aimless these days. Are we okay with a shabby lakefront? At ease with a corrupt government? Pretty satisfied with the status quo? Putting your shoulder to the wheel is supposed to produce results, and yet down here on the ground, I see plenty of people trying to make a life in Cleveland, a life for Cleveland, to remarkably little fanfare. Many of those efforts seem doomed to go unnoticed, and I fear the city's best and brightest will decamp for a place where honest effort is worth at least as much as the howling klaxon of boosterism.
I'm very tired these days. I'm tired of being the down-at-heel cousin of every "good" city, tired of not knowing the blueprint for what comes next. In an election year, when all the players are changing and so much seems uncertain, I can't help but wonder if we'll get anywhere before it's time to tear everything apart again. I'd like to believe it's still possible for most of us to get behind something we believe in, like creating a hopeful city that nurtures its residents.
Nike's ad men have given James his answer, at least the one we've all been expecting. If nothing else, perhaps we can take from Nike's work an answer of our own, or at least a place to start.
Rise, and move on.