In honor of the beginning of the new NBA season, I want to mention something that I’ve been thinking about for a few months.
For those of you who aren’t into NBA basketball, let me bring you up to speed. Here’s the story: Lebron James and Kobe Bryant are widely considered to be the two best players in the NBA. Last season, Lebron’s Cavaliers were expected by many to win the championship, but came up short in the playoffs. Instead, Kobe’s Lakers went on to win the championship, giving Kobe his fifth title.
Watching the world respond to what has happened since has been fascinating. Even if you’re not an NBA fan, you probably heard a little about it. Lebron’s contract was expiring, and he had the opportunity to play for any team he wanted. On July 7th, he announced his decision to the world – and instantly went from being one of the most popular players in the NBA to being hated by millions.
His crime? Part of it was his choice to announce his decision in an hour-long ESPN special, with the proceeds going to charity. The other part was that he decided to leave the Cavaliers to go play for the Miami Heat, joining his friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The backlash against Lebron was instantaneous. The following morning, Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert wrote an open letter to Cavs fans denouncing Lebron James as their “former hero”, and tossing out such words as, “narcissistic”, “self-promotional”, “deserted”, and “cowardly betrayal”. And Gilbert wasn’t the only one who went from love to hate in the span of about five seconds. See for yourself: Check out “ihatelebronjames.com” or just google around to see how many hateful things are being spewed Lebron’s way. Seriously – the city of Cleveland had Lebron-jersey-burning gatherings!
Meanwhile, what’s Kobe been up to? He’s been celebrating that he now has one more championship under his belt than Shaq does. You see, Kobe and Shaq are old rivals, and Kobe’s excited to now be one up on Shaq. Here’s how Bill Simmons from ESPN describes it:
“When everyone was celebrating in the Lakers’ locker room, Kobe let everyone know how much he enjoyed passing Shaq in the ring department. He did it loudly. Boisterously. Euphorically. With a few expletives… I love this stuff. It warms my heart to know that in an era in which the league’s best players would rather join forces than beat one another, two of the best 12 players of all time still despise each other.”
You see, one of the biggest reasons people give for hating Lebron’s decision to join the Heat is that Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, or Magic Johnson would have never even considered joining forces with one another. They saw each other as enemies and wanted nothing more than to beat one another. “That’s what made them so great”, people say. “Lebron can never be the greatest of all time because he doesn’t have that killer instinct.”
For serious? Come on, really?
Allow me to turn this thing on its head a little bit.
Basketball is a game. Lebron James is a person. He has a life and friends and relationships. Basketball is his job. A few years back, he signed a contract to play basketball for the Cavaliers for a few seasons. When that contract was up, he took the time to think about the decision before him. It seems to me that the world really wishes he had made this decision based on certain values, such as:
A real man fights to prove that he’s better than everyone else.
A real man wants to beat the tar out of everyone else. And not just beat them, but actually hate them.
A real man seeks to accumulate as much money as he can.
A real man should build his own kingdom and stand alone, without help from others.
Instead, Lebron made his decision based on these values:
I want to live and work near my friends.
I want to compete alongside people whose relationships I value.
I’m willing to make less money if it means I can do something that makes me happy.
If I can donate some money to charity in the process, all the better.
I would argue that Lebron’s decision qualifies as a tremendous step forward for professional athletes. There are stories every week about professional athletes getting arrested for drug use, rape, and weapons charges. In the midst of this, Lebron James made a significant life decision based on values that look to me like the values of the Kingdom of God. And rather than being praised, he has been hated and maligned for it.
Well Lebron, I’m excited for you. I hope you start a trend.
And all you readers: Look at the two lists of values I wrote out above. Tell me which world you would rather live in. And if you answer, “the first one”, then my question for you is:
For serious? Come on, really?