Today’s star athletes must care about image 

click to enlarge LeBron James' celebration after the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics in the second round of the NBA playoffs was over the top. (Getty Images file photo) - LEBRON JAMES' CELEBRATION AFTER THE MIAMI HEAT BEAT THE BOSTON CELTICS IN THE SECOND ROUND OF THE NBA PLAYOFFS WAS OVER THE TOP. (GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)
  • LeBron James' celebration after the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics in the second round of the NBA playoffs was over the top. (Getty Images file photo)
  • LeBron James' celebration after the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics in the second round of the NBA playoffs was over the top. (Getty Images file photo)

In the early 1990s, rising tennis star Andre Agassi let his long hair flow as he preened for the cameras and declared “Image is Everything” in a series of Canon commercials. The campaign drew almost immediate condemnation in media and tennis circles, with critics complaining that Agassi’s “style over substance” attitude made a mockery of a sport in which winning major titles was the barometer of achievement.

Still, Agassi may have been onto something long before he lost that flowing mane and began winning major championships: Image does matter.

Last week, a number of professional athletes seemed intent on destroying theirs.

- We’ll start with Saints running back Reggie Bush, who may have done more to damage the image of NFL players than the NFL owners ever could. Bush tweeted that he’s enjoying the league-wide lockout because he gets to relax, instead of, “slaving in 100 degree heat, practicing twice a day, while putting our bodies at risk for nothing.

“Slaving,” he said. “For nothing.”

If you’re wondering, Bush’s contract calls for him to receive $11.8 million dollars for his efforts this season, even if those efforts are as underwhelming as the rest of the former No. 2 overall draft pick’s career has been.

“Slaving” for “nothing,” he says, casually redefining both words.

- On Wednesday night in Miami, it was LeBron James’ turn to do even more damage to his image. Following the Heat’s second-round playoff win over the Celtics, James went into full Oscar nominee mode, kneeling on the floor and letting alligator tears flow as if he had actually accomplished something.

James had already been to the conference finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and in fact to the NBA Finals against the Spurs in 2006; yet he acted Wednesday as if this second-round series win was somehow the crowning moment of his young career.

Worse: He used his victorious postgame news conference as a platform to finally address his classless “Decision” from July, offering the city of Cleveland a half-hearted apology that would never have come in defeat.

Yes, James has ensured that the rest of the nation will be rooting against the Miami Hate for the duration of the playoffs.

- On Tuesday, it was boxing champ Bernard Hopkins destroying any goodwill he may have built for himself by unleashing a tirade of racial hatred for former Philadelphia Eagles’ and current Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb. Hopkins, a Philly-born fighter who had been sentenced to 18 years in prison in a pre-boxing life of crime, essentially challenged McNabb’s “blackness” because the quarterback didn’t have to struggle in a ghetto before making it as an NFL star.

“McNabb is the guy in the house, while everybody else is on the field,” the Executioner said, painting McNabb as an Uncle Tom. “He’s the one who got the extra coat. The extra servings. ‘You’re our boy,’ He thought he was one of them.”

Fortunately, the classy McNabb refused to take Hopkins’ bait, leaving the former champ looking as bad as he ever has.

- Then on Saturday, it was New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. Hitting just .165 this season, Posada was dropped to ninth in Joe Girardi’s batting order for a nationally televised game against the Boston Red Sox. Rather than accept the challenge and move up in the order through performance, Posada reportedly went to Girardi’s office and asked to be benched rather than hit ninth, while his wife tweeted stories of a fake back injury keeping him out of the lineup.

Once an integral part of championship Yankees teams, Posada’s image, and that of the Yankees, have taken an enormous hit in the New York media.

Yes, that Andre Agassi ... he really might have been onto something.

Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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Bob Frantz

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