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Nike's LeBron James commercial answers the question: Would he rather be liked or feared?

Controversy sells. At least Nike thinks so. Remember how the company took advantage of Tiger Woods’ scandal with an ad that featured the voice of Woods’ dead father? The sporting-goods company has adapted a similar tact with LeBron James, who went from hero to heel overnight after abandoning the Cleveland Cavaliers for the star-studded Miami Heat. In a new commercial, the 25-year-old star repeatedly asks the audience, “What should I do?” while clearly concluding that he’s proudly his own man. He quotes Maya Angelou, hangs with Sonny Crockett, and tweaks his critics, especially former star Charles Barkley, before rhetorically asking, “Should I be who you want me to be?” Take a look:

<embed src=”http://widgets.vodpod.com/w/video_embed/Video.4763996” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” AllowScriptAccess=”sameDomain” pluginspage=”http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer” wmode=”transparent” flashvars=” width=”425” height=”350” />

The Don Johnson cameo marked the first time since James’ decision that I was glad he selected Miami. (A Hot in Cleveland sighting just wouldn’t have the same vibe.) But the advertisement is another example of James’ ultra-sensitivity. Last week, he re-tweeted bigoted criticisms that he’s received over his move to South Beach. More than any other superstar of his magnitude, he seems to depend too much on what you think of him. In sports – just as in A Bronx Tale – it’s better to be feared than loved, no matter how James feels.

But is it a good ad? Will it sell sneakers? Does it redeem James for not telling the Cavaliers that he was leaving before announcing it to the world? And will you be watching tonight, when the Heat take on the Celtics in the first game of the NBA season?

Read more:
The LeBron James saga: When did basketball get infected by reality TV?
Betty White tries to woo LeBron James – to stay in Cleveland

Originally posted October 26 2010 — 4:30 PM EDT

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