Once More Around Lebron

The passage of time can add perspective, so let’s take one more turn around l’affaire LeBron.

It’s not any one thing that has aroused all the outrage and the disdain. It’s his decision to leave, his secret conniving, his strange and not-fully-explained breakdown in the playoffs, and the absurd promotional hour of decision, all together – the whole “constellation” as one commentator put it. All summed up in one simple truth:

          He thinks that he is bigger than the game itself.

          What does this mean?

          Well, let’s look at what LeBron has done – and what he hasn’t.

          Has he invented a product that will increase our welfare or comfort?  No.

          Has he been a great teacher?  No.

          Has he led us to great moral truths?  No.

          Has he led us, politically or socially, to some great achievement?  No.

Well, then, if he doesn’t have any of those abilities, what does he have? He has the ability to shoot a basketball into the basket from almost any place on the floor, plus excellent reflexes plus superior strength to go with the reflexes and enable him to drive to the basket.

Comparable skills are required for other games, for example, volleyball or lacrosse. What differentiates NBA basketball from volleyball or lacrosse? What do you need to form an organization such as the NBA? 

          First you need a city – actually, a group of cities – to provide a focus and the basis for everything else.

          Then you need fans, a sufficient number of fans emotionally committed to each team.

          And then you need owners, who will invest what is necessary to keep each city’s team a going concern.

          And finally, you need players.

          All these things add up to “the game” – a cooperative arrangement in which each participant gives and gets in return.

Without the game, LeBron would be nothing. He would be no more celebrated, and no wealthier, than the world’s greatest volleyball or lacrosse player. (Can you name even one great volleyball player or lacrosse player?)

And since, like every other participant, LeBron depends entirely on the game as a whole, it would seem that he owes something in return. Like every other player, he should play to the best of his ability, taking pride in his accomplishments – he owes that to the fans and to the game in general.

But LeBron has turned the proper relationship on its head. He has manipulated the game and the market it provides in order to serve his own narcissistic glorification – in order to “light up Broadway.”

In short, he is arrogant and ungrateful. He is also a bad role model. In this time when inner-city kids are so badly disserved by a sub-culture that lauds the fame and fortune of professional athletes, LeBron seems to have absorbed that sub-culture, providing a bright diabolic image of the all-supreme athlete.

Beyond that, I believe, LeBron’s treachery will have a more distant but more profound effect. It will tend to increase the gap of resentment and anger in our society between the lucky few who have much and the not-so lucky many who have little. As long as those who possess wealth and power are seen to be working for the good of all, the resentment and anger toward them is diminished or extinguished – after all, it would be foolish to resent one’s benefactors. But when those at the top are seen to be working only for their own self-aggrandizement, the anger and resentment bubble and fester and corrode the sense of community that any nation, especially a democracy, must have.

Consider a parallel to wider concerns – to the case of the Wall Street bankers of recent infamy. Like LeBron, they created nothing, yet they believed themselves to be entitled to whatever they could wring from the market, even if it threatened, and finally brought about, great harm to society as a whole.

Indeed, if we looked closely at other industries, I suspect we could find numerous examples of powerful and wealthy figures whose contributions to society are questionable but who claim an absolute entitlement to whatever they can wring from the marketplace, and woe to anyone who tries to take it away from them.

No, I am not blaming LeBron for the social malaise that affects our nation – he is infinitely less important than that. But there is an interesting similarity, don’t you think?

Read More on Minding the Issues
Volume 6, Issue 15, Posted 8:42 AM, 07.27.2010