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Thursday, September 16, 2010
LeBron James' teammates unfazed

Associated Press

MIAMI -- When it comes to LeBron James, the Miami Heat are more concerned about W's than Q's.

With training camp less than two weeks away, many of James' new teammates either insist they're not paying attention to the steady stream of critics who continue denouncing how the NBA's two-time reigning MVP's made his decision to join the Heat, or say they believe it'll all give him plenty of motivation for the coming season.

In the two months or so since James left Cleveland for Miami, his "Q Score" -- the measure of how something or someone appeals to a broad audience -- has taken a big hit. But as long as the Heat put up big wins, no one around the team will likely care, or probably even notice how anyone inside the locker room is perceived nationally.

"We'll take it as a challenge," Heat center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who also left Cleveland for Miami this summer, said Thursday. "We'll get everybody's best shot every game, but that only happens to good teams for a reason. So you have to take the good with the bad and just roll with it. We'll use it as a motivation, obviously. It's going to be an interesting year."

James has been working out in Miami at times this summer, but was not part of a voluntary session with several teammates Thursday.

He has seen his former No. 23 jerseys burned in Cleveland this summer, been called a quitter by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, even had his competitiveness questioned by Orlando general manager Otis Smith. And on a Dallas radio show earlier this week, outspoken Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said James may have "lost a billion dollars in brand equity, give or take a couple bucks here or there."

By now, many Heat players are just starting to tune naysayers out. Or trying to, anyway.

"I think they're making it a bigger deal than what it is," Miami point guard Carlos Arroyo said of the buzz -- much of it negative -- about James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the new-look Heat. "We're going to have a lot of distractions and our focus should be winning a championship. That's why they came here. Other than that, we shouldn't focus on what people are talking about because we knew there were going to be critics who attacked us that way."

The perception of James differs wildly, depending on perspective.

In Miami, before he's taken a single shot for the Heat, he's already treated like royalty. From a marketing standpoint, James might be bigger than the 2006 NBA title was for the franchise -- considering that in the 30 days after he said he was "taking my talents to South Beach," the Heat sold 30 percent more merchandise than it did in the 30 days after winning a championship four years ago.

So far, the Heat have seen merchandise sales rise 1,000 percent over last year's clip, and there's a long waiting list for James, Wade and Bosh jerseys, with the team awaiting more shipments from Adidas.

And the Heat also went through 13,000 tickets for the welcome-to-Miami party for Wade, James and Bosh -- in less than an hour.

"I think everybody's eager to see how we're going to jell and how we're going to progress," Ilgauskas said.

Yet in other markets, James' popularity needs a rebound.

In January, James' had a positive Q Score of 24, and a negative Q Score of 22 -- meaning 24 percent of Americans familiar with James listed him as one of their favorite personalities, and 22 percent said he was among their least-favorites in sports.

Now, his positive Q Score number is 14. His negative Q Score? 39.

"I think it's probably the biggest negative jump I've seen not related to any anti-social behavior," said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of The Q Scores Company. "It was clearly perceived as a negative move on LeBron's part."

James' negative Q Score ranks sixth among athletes. Only Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, Terrell Owens, Kobe Bryant and Chad Ochocinco have worse negative numbers, Schafer said.

Schafer said there could be a "slight correction factor" when the NBA season begins, given the old adage that just about everyone loves a winner.

"There's no question that winning helps," Schafer said. "But It's not the only thing that gets taken into consideration when evaluating a celebrity or a personality."

Inside the Heat locker room, James doesn't have a negative Q Score.

For now, especially on the verge of the season, that's what the team says matters most.

"We've just got to stay focused," Heat forward Juwan Howard said. "Keep your eye on the prize and stay together as a team. Stay together, stay one, stay united."