• VIDEO: New LeBron James Nike commercial takes shots at Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley

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    LeBron James’ reputation took some big hits in the offseason, from fans, from the media and from former players, most notably Charles Barkley.

    It looks like LeBron is now firing back at critics with a new Nike commercial — and neither Barkley nor Michael Jordan, nor any fans who criticized him, are spared.

    The commercial is, in a word, brilliant.

    It starts off by acknowledging James’ heartless way to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers on the ESPN special ‘The Decision’ was, in his words, a mistake.

    “What should I do?” LeBron asks, seemingly sitting on the set immediately following the airing of ‘The Decision,’ even wearing an identical shirt. “Should I admit that I’ve made mistakes?”

    That’s an obvious admission of his own guilt, that he should not have gone on television and broke the hearts of the fans of his hometown team.

    But after that, he goes right on the attack.

    The way I see it, the very next line goes after fans: “Should I remind you I’ve done this before?” Then, in a young man’s voice: “Should I give you a history lesson?” To me, that means LeBron is showing fans that, just as he did in high school (and now the NBA with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh), he played with his friends, had a ball and won titles.

    “Should I tell you how much fun we had?” he says as one of his giant posters is being removed from what is obviously meant to be Cleveland, an olive branch to Cavs fans. Then, an empty Hall of Fame dinner and “Should I really believe I ruined my legacy?”

    Then, the shot at Jordan: “What should I do? Should I just sell shoes? Wanna see my shiny new shoes?”

    While not obvious, it looks like this is at least a subtle jab at Jordan, who was a businessman above all else, typified by his famous quote on why he wouldn’t speak out on political issues: “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

    If you look close, LeBron is even wearing those 80s sunglasses Jordan used to wear, famously in his “Saturday Night Live” appearance and in some of the Mars Blackman Nike ads, back in the day.

    Next, the obvious one. The shot at Barkley: “Should I tell you ‘I am not a role model!'” LeBron states, recreating the great Barkley Nike ad from years ago.

    The kicker? A large bite into a pink frosted donut, a wink, and a ‘Hi Chuck.’ An easy reference to Barkey’s substantial weight gain since his playing days ended.

    Ouch.

    The rest of the commercial goes on to ask question after question: “Should I tell you I’m a championship chaser?” and “Should I accept my role as a villain?” and ” “Should I stop listening to my friends?” and on and on.

    “Should I try acting?” leads into a scene in ‘Miami Vice’ (corny Miami reference, but it works) with the real Don Johnson, who tells LeBron: “You just got to deal with the heat, man. Be patient. After a while, the temperature drops and everything is free and easy.”

    “Should I be writing this down?” LeBron asks Johnson, with the reply “Uh-huh.”

    The soulful poem: “Shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, still, like air, I’ll rise…” (“Rise” is the name of the Nike spot).

    “What should I do?” LeBron keeps asking. “Should I be who you want me to be?”

    The answer, of course, is no.

    No one should be who someone else wants them to be. Everyone should be themselves.

    Now, I can’t defend LeBron for going to Miami. I was critical of that move, and of ‘The Decision.’ I wanted him to stay in Cleveland (or, of course, come to the Knicks, duh).

    But the brilliance of the ad is that it says outright: LeBron shouldn’t be who I want him to be. He should just be himself.

    And if who he is happens to be a dependent player — dependent on other star players the way Jordan, Bird, Magic and even Barkley never were — so be it.

    The problem is, he spent the last seven seasons in Cleveland showing he wasn’t that. He proved he could take a mediocre team and make everyone around him better, which is why, I think, people were disappointed he seemingly hopped on the express train to a championship.

    Still, the ad does a good job defending LeBron. And it makes us question why we were so angry at LeBron in the first place.

    It may be the first step in getting LeBron James back into the hearts of basketball fans. Oh, and it isn’t nearly as creepy as that Nike ad with Tiger Woods and the voice of his late father.

    But don’t take my word for it. Watch the commercial and leave your opinion

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