Commentary

LeBron James' body language revealed

Originally Published: June 7, 2010
By Cam Martin | Special to Page 2

JamesAP Photo/Charles KrupaWhen LeBron James talked with Larry King, he revealed some clues on his thinking about his future.

Tonya Reiman, author of "The Power of Body Language: How to Succeed in Every Business and Social Encounter" and a regular consultant on "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News Channel, agreed to watch Larry King's interview with free agent LeBron James on Friday and then discuss with Page 2 what she observed in James' body language.

Has James already made his decision about where he'll play next year? Do the Cavaliers really have an edge in re-signing James, as he claimed in the interview? Are the Los Angeles Clippers a genuine option? Reiman provides answers to these questions and more.

Page 2: In your latest book, "The Yes Factor," you write, "In order to understand someone's nonverbal signals, you need to baseline that person." How did you baseline LeBron James in this interview with Larry King?

Most of the baselining I did was when he was asked about his friends and his kids. You want to go to where you think the basic questions are going to be; questions that he's not going to feel uncomfortable answering. So when Larry King asks, 'How old are your kids?' and [LeBron] just darts out the answer, or these four best friends of [LeBron's], and he starts talking about what they do and where they are now. He demonstrates how he's accessing that [factual] information.

What red flags from LeBron jumped out at you in certain situations?

The "absolutely." I think I calculated, and there were, like, 46 times when he said "absolutely," roughly. The reason that's a red flag typically is because repetition tends to lead to deception. So I would automatically pick up on that. However, in this case, I didn't feel like it was always based on deception. I felt that is based more on a comfort. I use the word "absolutely" constantly. Somebody will say something to me and I'll say "absolutely." A politician or a sports figure who is trying to evade a question, and they keep repeating the same phrase over and over again instead of answering a question, that's when it becomes a real red flag for deception. With this situation, I didn't feel like he was always trying to evade anything, I just felt it was the answer he was most comfortable with.

So you don't think he was evasive at all in the interview?

No, no. That's not what I'm saying at all. I think he was very evasive. He was evasive when Larry King was asking him questions, and the sad part about it is, Larry King had excellent opportunities at certain points to follow up and say, "Can we go a little bit deeper? Can we delve a little bit further?" But he didn't do that. So there was evasion, but there was no real follow-through. [Larry King] was spoon-feeding him as opposed to asking really hard-hitting questions. So it just made it that much easier for LeBron James to say "absolutely!" There are so many more questions he could have asked that would have boxed LeBron James into a corner where he either had to answer a real question or say, "Listen, I don't really want to talk about that."

What were the nonverbal cues for LeBron that seemed to indicate evasion?

He shrugs and double-shrugs constantly. Shrugs are a real big part of communication, because quite often we can control our facial expressions, but a lot of cues leak out through the shoulders because they're connected to us emotionally. Shoulders shrug when we feel that we might be in danger. It's a protective gesture. So when someone says something that might put us in jeopardy, we'll shrug in order to appear smaller and more vulnerable. So when [LeBron is] talking about basic stuff that he feels strongly about or that he's not concerned about -- his mom, his kids -- you see that there's no movement in the shoulders. They stay solid and firm.

What about when he was talking about going to the Los Angeles Clippers?

Here was an interesting thing, because Larry King says, "That'll put you in the same city as Kobe." And if you watch this, you see [LeBron's] left eyebrow go up very slightly and then he grabs his collar and he scratches his neck. It's almost like you're choking, so he pulls his collar away. Whenever you rub your neck it's an indication of tension. Even more telling than that was that little, almost imperceptible eye lift. That's a very large indication of skepticism. So if he goes there [to Los Angeles], I'd be really surprised.

You wouldn't be the only one.

And then he's talking about his coach [Mike Brown]. "Are you sad that your coach was fired?" "Um, absolutely." Now I'm not talking about nonverbals as much as I'm talking about verbals and timing. There was a slight pause before he answered, and there was an "um" in front in of it. The fact it was a question that was pretty simplistic -- "Are you sad that your coach was let go?" -- you shouldn't have to pause to answer that question. It's a yes-or-no question. To me, that was a telltale sign.

Larry King went on to ask LeBron, "You haven't made a decision [about where he will play next season] yet, correct?" And LeBron immediately responded, "Correct." When asked how close he was making to a decision, he looked to his right, touched his chin and said he's far from close. And then he started squirming in his seat. What do you make from this series of nonverbal cues?

Here, I saw a very slight head nod which tells me on an unconscious as well as a conscious level, I don't think he actually knows where he's going. When Larry King starts saying, "Do you have any idea?" and you see that chin stroke, typically when somebody strokes their chin, that's contemplation. And then LeBron says, "I haven't begun to strategize," and you see three shoulder shrugs. I think he has begun to strategize. I think he has been strategizing for some time now. I can't believe given what I saw nonverbally that he hasn't been strategizing about it. So does he know where he's going? Has he made a final decision? My impression is no, based on the head movement up and down. Has he been thinking about it long and hard? Yes.

What about where he said Cleveland has the edge to re-sign him? Do you think that's true?

He said "absolutely, absolutely." I didn't think he was being genuine there. I felt like he was saying what he thought people wanted to hear.

Why's that?

Again, you saw the shoulder shrug. It wasn't once, it was twice. When you see a shoulder shrug over and over again, it's somebody doubting their own words. If you say "absolutely, absolutely" and you're still shrugging your shoulders, you're nonverbally saying, "I don't know, I don't know." No matter what your words say, your nonverbals are going to tell the truth. So if I look at you and go, "absolutely," and those shoulders are straight across just like they were for a great deal of the interview, then you think he's rock-solid. But if I say to you, "I don't know," and my shoulders go up, you say, "Oh, he's being honest. He doesn't know." And now [LeBron] says "absolutely, absolutely" and the shoulders go up, that's your body saying, "Help! I want to tell the truth and I just can't!"

So you would conclude that he hasn't made up his mind, but at the same time Cleveland does not have a decided advantage?

Yes. What he told me nonverbally was, "Everything's on the table right now. And there's no place that has an absolute upper hand."

Cam Martin is a contributor to Page 2. He previously worked for the Greenwich (Conn.) Time and The (Stamford, Conn.) Advocate, and has written online for CBS Sports and Comcast SportsNet New England. You can contact him at cdavidmartin@yahoo.com.


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