LeBron James is always on point on the court.
And this laser focus carries over to his personal life.
A College of Wooster professor has been following NBA star closely, not only as a fan but also as an academic.
It is the off-court rhetoric — particularly when he moves from team to team — that has piqued Denise Bostdorff’s interest.
From the Pick to the Decision to the Homecoming to whatever moniker latches onto his move to the Lakers, Bostdorff notes each has been carefully calculated by James and his team.
The professor of communication and associate dean notes the Decision didn’t sit well with fans who had to watch their hearts get broken on national TV.
The language and symbolism of each move has been so great, Bostdorff notes, that she teamed up with a colleague from Ashland University, Daniel J. O’Rourke, to pen a paper about James.
The 38-page academic paper "Religion, Sport, and the Return of the Prodigal Son: The Postsecular Rhetoric of LeBron James’s 2014 ‘I’m Coming Home’ Open Letter" was published this spring by the Michigan State University Press.
Bostdorff, whose expertise is in rhetoric, communication and media, said the paper looked at the religious imagery and language attached to the Akron-born superstar, from being called the Chosen One and King James, to fans being Witnesses, to the way he departed the first time only to return.
She explains that the ESPN special where he announced his move to Miami ripped the hearts from Cavs fans, making him a sinner in the eyes of many.
But in his return and open letter to Cleveland fans, Bostdorff said, he evoked the Prodigal Son. He played the role of the son who left only to return more mature and wise, and also that of the father as he forgave team owner Dan Gilbert and the fans who attacked him.
Winning helped heal past transgressions. He once again cemented his king-like status in Northeast Ohio.
So now what? Bostdorff said she thinks things are different this time, and that should help James with the fans.
He brought home a long-sought championship trophy as he promised to Cleveland. He is playing arguably at the top of his game.
There’s also his philanthropy work in Akron to ensure kids stay in school and on the path to a college degree.
And the not-so-small matter that he is making less money by signing with the Lakers.
Bostdorff said this should help him avoid the accusations of being selfish that dogged him the first time he left. But she argues this doesn’t give him a free pass for not providing a reason to fans for his departure.
He can’t, she said, blame it on wanting to win championships like the first time he left, and he’ll need to explain away his reasoning that he came back because he wanted his own kids and those served by his foundation to realize there was "no better place" to grow up.
"If so, why is he leaving?" she said.
It is clear, she said, that James cares a lot about Akron, and those who call it home care about him and his legacy here.
His social media post about his decision thanked fans for four great seasons and reaffirmed, as in the 2014 letter, that "This will always be home."
It’s significant too, Bostdorff said, that it seems his first public comments about the move will be made in Akron at the end of the month to celebrate the opening of his I Promise school.
That makes sense from his perspective because the day will be one of celebration, and it is not a press conference where uncomfortable questions could be asked.
"He’ll need to explain why he’s leaving and reassure the kids at the school and reassure the region that his relationship with them will endure," she said. "Is he going somewhere with the goal of helping to make professional basketball more competitive?
"Is he attempting to meet a new ‘challenge’ in entertainment, along with basketball, that will allow him to create more opportunities for people of color like those in Akron?"
Bostdorff said she’s anxious to see how James handles this formal announcement and whether it will mean another chapter has to be written for the academic paper.
"It will be interesting," she said.
Craig Webb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3547.