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LeBron James’ Image Rehabilition is Now Complete

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Sports Illustrated has named Miami Heat superstar LeBron James their 2012 Sportsman of the Year, and with that I think it’s safe to say that King James has moved beyond damage control to his reputation, and has now completed a total image rehabilitation.

That’s not to say that there still isn’t a swirling vortex of LeBron-haters out there that will continue to try to tear down his every move and word, but it’s clear now that LeBron James isn’t really the villain that most thought him to be when he left the chilly lakefront gusts of Cleveland for the warm zephyrs of Miami.

It’s sometimes hard to remember that, despite his size and skill, LeBron was a teenager entering into the NBA Draft in 2003. The Cleveland Cavaliers plucked him from the high school ranks and threw him into the franchise savior role from day one, and honestly, LeBron came through for them with flying colors.

Once his contract was done in Cleveland, LeBron did what the majority of free agent athletes in every sport choose to do. He tested the waters, weighed his options, and decided what was best for his future – both in terms of career and money. Enter the media circus known as “The Decision” and the infamous, now oft-quoted catch phrase, “taking my talents to South Beach”.

The problem was the spectacle that was made of “The Decision”, and the glam-rock introduction of King James and his new Miami teammates. It was over the top, and frankly, quite arrogant and offensive to some. LeBron seemingly turned his back not only on the franchise that drafted him, but on the an entire state, and then he proceeded to wave his flag of pre-destined triumph in their faces.

Here’s where it gets complicated.

While LeBron has to accept some responsibility for what now looks like a bit of shameless self-promotion, we have to remember that his handlers, the press and anyone else who had a say in the matter were giving LeBron tons of unnecessary advice and constantly whispering in his ear. This was a 25-year old kid who was dealing with not only unparallelled celebrity and success, but also expectations that were seemingly super-human in scope.

I remember some of the completely ridiculous decisions I made at 25, and I didn’t have millions of dollars and an entourage at my disposal. (If I had, I scarcely think I’d even be out of prison yet)

Since arriving on South Beach, LeBron has showed that he’s everything he was expected to be, with many fans and members of the media questioning him in the process. He’s out there every night, working as hard (if not harder) than anyone on the floor. He’s as unselfish a player as you can find, and makes all of his teammates better.

His flag-waving days have given way to banner-raising, and his only rock-n-roll promotions come in network television commercial spots. It’s clear that LeBron learned a valuable lesson through the experience of “The Decision” and its aftermath, and he’s become a better player and ambassador for the NBA in the process.

Congratulations LeBron, your 2012 Sportsman of the Year title was definitely earned, and  is well deserved.

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Michael Collins is a Rant Sports NFL and MLB Network Manager, and Atlanta sports columnist. Follow him @GaSportsCraze on Twitter and here on Facebook