I have never, ever, ever, ever introduced a piece of writing by citing a dictionary definition of a word. It's clichéd, it's tacky, and quite frankly it makes you look like a huge nerd. It's bad writing.

But in this specific case, I think it might be necessary for the sake of clarification.

The word "retard," according to Merriam-Webster, is primarily used as a verb. It means "to slow up, especially by preventing or hindering advance or accomplishment; to impede."

Here, I'll use it in a sentence for you — for the last four years, Paul Pierce and the Celtics have retarded LeBron James' progress toward his goal of winning an NBA championship. Simple enough, right?

That's the less offensive definition of the word, obviously. It's often the forgotten one, perhaps for that reason. But it's a correct one. It's from French — ask a Francophone friend what the word means, and they'll tell you it simply means "delay."

Which is interesting, because by that definition, LeBron has been retarded by a lot of things throughout his first eight years in the NBA.

On talent alone, he's the most stunning individual the game of basketball has seen in a long time. Maybe since Michael Jordan, maybe since Wilt Chamberlain, maybe ever. But a variety of factors have delayed him from realizing his potential as one of the sport's true legends.

He's been held down by some mediocre coaches and some less-than-mediocre supporting players. He's caught a few bad breaks. And he's run into some very good teams in his first six postseasons — Chauncey Billups' Pistons, Tim Duncan's Spurs, Dwight Howard's Magic, and of course the Celtics.

But if you look at LeBron's quest through the lens of his real goal — the status of "global icon" — the true retardation of his career is the result of his own character. LeBron wants the world to love him, but how can they? He's been self-absorbed, he's been dense, and occasionally he's said some things he'd like to take back.

By taking one of them back on Monday night — apologizing at his post-Game 4 news conference for "using the R word" — he's taken a very nice first step. Whether it was his idea or that of one of his many handlers, the apology was a nice gesture to prove he does care, at least a little bit. He doesn't want to be seen as insensitive or oblivious. He wants the world to know he's not always the bad guy.

It's sad that we're focusing on this at all — the story this week should be the fact that LeBron is finally overcoming his demons and beating the Celtics, but instead we're sidetracked by an unfortunate under-the-breath comment. America loves a winner, but LeBron just won't give us a chance to love him.

But even the staunchest of LeBron haters has to admit this is a good start.

The simple act of apologizing — admitting that he's human, that he makes mistakes and has regrets just like the rest of us — is a pretty grand gesture. It doesn't erase the tastelessness of "The Decision," and it would have been better for him never to let the "R word" slip at all, but all things considered, LeBron has handled this well.

LeBron James has handled something well. There's a sentence you don't read every day.

No one's ever doubted LeBron's prowess as an athlete. The hard part is becoming a man — and that part is looking less and less "retarded" every day.

What do you think of this latest LeBron James controversy? Share your thoughts below.