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The Renaming of LeBron James

Cataloging the punny plays on the basketball star's name.

When you call yourself King James and arrange a one-hour TV special to end your free agency, all the while stabbing your home state in the heart, it’s safe to say you have a healthy ego. A guy who could write on Twitter the next day, “The Road to History starts now!” clearly doesn’t need those improve-your-self-esteem books I was thinking of mailing him.

But confident or not, I doubt LeBron James enjoys his contribution to our ever-expanding slang vocabulary: Most James-inspired words—including “LeTraitor,” “LeGod,” “LeBacle,” and “LeBrachelor”—take a decidedly dim view of the ballplayer. They are a form of cutting, minute-by-minute commentary on his overblown free-agent decision and the preposterous sports-news cycle that makes all of this possible.

To sum up the story for basketball-phobes, Cleveland—which has suffered numerous sports atrocities, as summarized here—feared the departure of NBA megastar and Ohio native James for years before his 2010 free agency. When James’s Cavaliers unexpectedly lost in the second round of the playoffs in the so-called “LeBacle,” it fed fears that LeBron would soon be “LeGone,” which indeed came to pass on July 8. Though it now seems LeBron's move to Miami has been in the works since 2006, James concocted a reality-show-esque dramatization of "The Decision," which many dubbed “The LeBrachelor.”

This public kiss-off/eff-you led former worshipers of James to burn his jersey, while Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert composed a poison pen letter for the ages, slamming James’s narcissism and “cowardly betrayal” like a jilted lover. Non-Clevelanders may never understand the pain, but Eric Retter makes a solid comparison: “Closest example to what LeBron did with Cleveland: Instead of proposing to your girlfriend, dumping your wife on the Jumbotron. At the Super Bowl.”

Given that ugliness, it’s no surprise the insults “LeDbag,” “LeBastard,” “LeBenedict Arnold,” and “LeNarcissict” have spread like a VD. Many terms—like “LeTurd”—only turn up once or twice, while others like “LeBrat” are used often, probably because of the “br” sound and the exquisite brattiness of James’s “Look at me! Look at me!” routine. Some mocked him as “LeJesus” or “LeGod,” but the most biting name might have come courtesy of Mike Freeman: “We now have a winner for Greatest Ego of All Time. There's only one choice. There will always be only one choice. LeFavre James."

Given the current trend for doomy suffixes, it wasn’t hard to find “LeBronmageddon” and “LeBronocalypse.” Fans wondered if James's suitors would become LeBulls, LeKnicks, LeClippers, or LeHeat, and if his new teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be renamed “LeWade” and “LeBosh.” In Slate, Josh Levin discussed the “LeBrontourage,” (while Entertainment Weekly’s Lost guru Doc Jensen got in on the fun by mentioning “this awful Lebronomercial.”)

The day after the “LeBronologue,” the Chicago Tribune sports section read “LeBummer,” for James spurning the Bulls as well as spitting on the Cavs. Fan Kevin Heffernan wrote, “We had a LeBronfire last night ... I burned everything I own with his name on it.” Pre-decision, a Washington Post commenter made my favorite LeBronologism: “LeBrouhaha is going to do what he likes doing live on TV, make a spectacle of himself.”

As this hurricane of wordplay intensified, some commented on the wordplay itself as much as the story behind it. As Steve Huff wrote: “Is it LeSafe LeTo LeGet on LeTwitter LeNow? Is the LeBronathon LeOver?”

Some LeBron words are just silly, but many are effective and to the point. It’s no accident that professional satirists like Stephen Colbert and Matt Groening are as prone to word invention as the average dude on Twitter. Just as nicknaming BP allows us to critique and spoof a corporate monster while making ourselves feel better, talking about the LeBrouhaha helps us blow off steam in the ultimately trivial yet often truly frustrating world of sports.

The LeTragedy isn’t a real tragedy, but it feels like one in Cleveland, where they deserve our sympathy and our words. Every “I’m so sorry” and “LeFraud Shames” helps.

Original photo by Keith Allison used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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