LOS ANGELES -- On the eve before The Associated Press named him its Male Athlete of the Year, LeBron James uploaded a picture of himself to Instagram showing off some designer clothes.
James was in Los Angeles, after all, and it was Christmas, after all, and he needed to let his 10.8 million followers on Twitter know what he was wearing. James and the Miami Heat defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 101-95 on Wednesday and James highlighted the game with a pair of alley-oops from Dwyane Wade that seemed to slam exclamation points on the back of one of James’ most prestigious individual awards of his career.
Since the AP began naming an athlete of the year in 1931, only three NBA players have earned the annual prize. But Larry Bird and Michael Jordan didn’t have the Internet. James is the league’s first transcendent star to harness the power of social media and maximize its effectiveness on a global scale.
Through Twitter and Instagram, James can reach out to his fans for a variety of purposes. His main interest, of course, is to inspire children, but he also weighs in on social causes from time to time and also uses social media to project an image of strong family values. And, of course, James uses to the Internet to sell stuff.
“Game look from today,” James wrote on Instagram after Wednesday’s game. “Acne Studios button down shirt, Armani sweatpants, Spattered ‘LeBronciaga’ Arenas.”
It was a big year for James and he was able to maximize his brand appeal instantly on the Internet all along the way. After winning his second consecutive championship in June, James posted a now-famous video of himself lauding his accomplishment.
“Man, I don’t know what to say,” James said in the video. “I’m the champion two times. Two rings. That [expletive] stink, don’t it?”
James is the first professional athlete to win the award while playing for a franchise in Florida. He’s also the third Ohioan to win the award (Dick Kazmaier, 1951; Howard Cassady, 1955). Dwight Gooden (1985), born in Tampa, is the only Floridian to win the award.
“It's an HONOR to be name @AP Male Athlete of the Year!! Thanks so much!! #StrivingForGreatness,” James wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
James’ hashtag in his tweet, of course, was a nod to his marketing campaign for Nike.
James was edged by Michael Phelps for 2012 Male Athlete of the Year. This time around, James beat out NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson.
"I'm chasing something and it's bigger than me as a basketball player," James told the AP. "I believe my calling is much higher than being a basketball player. I can inspire people. Youth is huge to me.
“If I can get kids to look at me as a role model, as a leader, a superhero … those things mean so much, and that's what I think I was built for. I was put here for this lovely game of basketball, but I don't think this is the biggest role that I'm going to have."
James highlighted his successful year with a $1 million donation to his high school in Akron, Ohio.
Both players and fans criticized the NBA’s choice of wardrobe on Christmas. The sleeved jerseys fell flat.
“Call me old school but the jerseys with sleeves are awful,” said Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki on Twitter.
James said the tight-fitting attire altered his shot. The back-to-back MVP was 7-for-14 from the field against the Lakers but 0-for-4 from three-point range and 5-for-9 from the free-throw line.
“It’s definitely a different feeling,” James said. “Every time I shot it from the free-throw line or shot a jumper, I felt a little tug. So, maybe I’ll go up to a bigger size next time we wear them or — I’m not going to tell you what the other alternative is — but I definitely felt it for sure. For me, I’m not a great shooter, so any little error goes on can effect my shot.”
Michael Beasley returned from his hamstring injury on Monday against the Hawks and played well enough to be inserted into the Heat’s overtime lineup. He scored 10 points in 20 minutes, had seven rebounds and made important free throws in the overtime period. His return didn’t earn him playing time on Christmas, though.
The bright lights and national spotlight were reserved for bench players Rashard Lewis and Udonis Haslem.
“I’m going to have to figure that out,” Spoelstra said of working Beasley into the lineup. “I didn’t want to force it.’’
“But we have a lot of time and I’ll spend a lot of time in deep thought on what we can do.”