Court to give final verdict on LeBron's image

LeBron James has seemed completely at peace with his decision to join the Heat – even if most of the public wasn't

The rehabilitation of LeBron James(notes) began Monday with the release of a sharp new Nike spot where LeBron asks his critics, ''What should I do?''

It continues, in earnest, Tuesday when his Miami Heat take on the Boston Celtics in what may well be the most anticipated NBA season opener of all time.

With that, destiny returns to LeBron's court. This is no longer about bumbling public relations but about James making an impact in the place he's most comfortable – in the open floor of an NBA game.

It's the chance, followed by 81 more regular season chances, to remind the American public why they rooted for him in the first place. He's a two-time MVP with an unheard of combination of size, speed and skill. At age 25, he should be just entering his prime. He is a nightly human highlight reel who is now part of the wildest three-ring hoops circus since Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.

Presuming LeBron is still LeBron in Miami, the hard feelings of the summer of 2010 and the way he left the Cleveland Cavaliers will be mostly forgotten and forgiven. Not in Cleveland (they're allowed to hurt forever) and not by everyone. But by many.

This is the overriding power of talent. It wins out in the end.

The Nike commercial that was released online Monday went viral immediately and has been met with almost universal approval. That, in part, is because the people at the Wieden + Kennedy advertising firm are ingenious. They sold LeBron perfectly.

Really, when James was looking to announce his plans for the season, he should've just left it up to them.

He didn't, though, and the fallout was considerable. Outside of Cleveland, the backlash LeBron endured wasn't so much about the decision as ''The Decision'' – a clumsy, self-aggrandizing program dreamt up by his not-ready-for-prime-time friends and a cadre of out-of-touch Hollywood dealmakers.

It won't last though. In the commercial he shoots back at his critics (even eating a donut for Charles Barkley) and defends taking the advice of his inexperienced entourage. ''They're my friends,'' he notes. It glossed over a million counter arguments but it did so effectively.

This will serve as James' explanation for his decision. At this point, he shouldn't say much more.

He should just play.

The summer of discontent was almost exclusively self-inflicted. The more he talked, the worse he sounded. He came across as arrogant. He counted on the wrong people to tell his side of the story, and it burned him.

His decision could've been easily spun. He chose less money to play in Miami (this is offset by Florida's lack of an income tax, but still, who chooses less money?). He was willing to join a team that already had an established franchise star, Dwyane Wade(notes). He was putting team goals in front of individual ones. He just wanted to win.

If sold that way, the public reaction to LeBron would've been different. There still would've been cries of disloyalty and impatience and the oddity of a star player giving up on going it alone and essentially conceding a level of defeat. Those are all fair points. None of them would've elicited the reaction of ''The Decision.''

The public sentiment became so intense it was easy to forget that James hadn't committed a crime or broken a rule. He hadn't really done anything wrong.

It's why LeBron will be forgiven quickly. At least as long as he delivers the epic season that is expected of him.

With Wade and Chris Bosh(notes) as running mates, LeBron could challenge Oscar Robertson's mark of averaging a triple-double for the season. Defenses will be incapable of double- and triple-teaming him, allowing him the space for awe-inspiring highlights. The Heat could make a run at the 72-victory record of Jordan's Bulls.

James will play almost nightly on national television. Road games will be like rock festivals. The party in Miami will be downtown, not South Beach (at least until postgame).

And then the playoffs will arrive and everyone will be gunning for him. Lines will be drawn. Fans will cheer this juggernaut or despise it. Boston, Orlando, the Lakers. Every one will focus on LeBron and the Heat.

It's all in his hands again. He doesn't need a hit movie or a victorious election like some other defrocked celebrity. He just needs to play.

That's the thing that ruined Tiger Woods' rehab from a far more embarrassing and disappointing scandal than LeBron (if you want to term ''The Decision'' as a scandal).

Tiger's game fell apart with his marriage. If Woods had won a couple majors in 2010, if he had rekindled the memories of his brilliant play, if he had been chipping in from the fairway for impossible eagles, the public perception of him would've softened. Instead, he failed to win a single tournament and couldn't offset the negativity.

There is no reason to believe LeBron will struggle. He looks like the same superstar in the preseason. If he's humble and selfless, and sticks to talking basketball (and not the patronizing philosophy lessons he occasionally tweets), then the future will be the past.

Nike did Tiger Woods no favors when it used his deceased father for a tacky commercial. It made up for it with LeBron's explanation.

So now here comes the season. Here comes the fun. Here comes LeBron – decision made, memories about to be.