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Idol Worship? Who’s the idiot? Us or Lebron?

July 11, 2010 2 comments

OK, Lebron James went to Miami. I think from a basketball standpoint, huge deal.

But morally? Please spare me the indignation people.

Neil sums up what I think really well:

Imagine a situation where you took a job right out of high school in your home town. You worked hard in this job and gave it your blood, sweat, and tears for seven straight years. As you diligently pursued your passion, it became clear that with each one of your successes, people raised their expectations of your performance. Meanwhile, you probably bought into the hype. Each time you did not give the people what they wanted, they questioned your abilities, or criticized your coworkers and boss. The weight of people’s high hopes began to wear on you. Eventually, you began to resent the lofty expectations and constant fear of let-down that your job entailed.

You then realize that instead of putting up with the same thing for the rest of your career, you had an out. You could leave your lame home town for a considerably less lame, cool and happening city. Better yet, you could work with several of your friends. Going to work every day would be a treat! Plus, your friends/co-workers are also pretty efficient at their jobs, thereby requiring you to do less work on a regular basis. Not only that, but your new company is paying you a lot. And lest we forget, with your addition, this new company is poised to become an industry-leader, perhaps regularly becoming the best firm in their industry year-in, year-out.

What would you do? If it were me, I would happily switch companies. I bet you would too. Simmons certainly did – do we fault him for leaving the confines of his own website to write for ESPN? Unless you are a superstar like Lebron James, few people would fault you for such a decision.

One thing I would say though, the way Lebron announced his decision was perhaps the epitome of self-aggrandizement. The conspicuous charity (Boys and Girls Club) was so patently insincere that I hear Paris Hilton was taking notes.

What I really don’t get is how the same people who made a messianic idol of Lebron with nicknames like King James, The Chosen One etc. are now the same ones lambasting him for this decision. We spoke of how he transcended sports, how he was a global icon. Why? Because he is the most graceful and skilled and getting himself or his team to put an orange ball into a metal rim with a net on it. Are we now supposed to be pissed that he loves himself too much? That he actually believes he’s worth something, because we’ve told him he’s greater than anything we know. Greater than the Mother Theresa’s of the world? Even if we say we don’t believe that, our wallets seem to speak the loudest on this one.

Are we going to fault him for being selfish, for seeking his own gain or consumption? We were willing consumers lapping up his every move and begging him to become even greater than MJ. His owner, whose scathing and hypocritical letter denounced Lebron’s existence, was the definition of “consumerism”. He  lapped up the positive externalities of Lebron. Only when Lebron actually slipped away, only when Lebron would bring cash for another team, only when Lebron wasn’t part of the Cavaliers brand did he lash out.

We criticize him for being disloyal, for not maintaining this relationship between fan and player. This is the antithesis of a relationship. From the get go it was “What can Lebron do for me?”. When the answer was dunks and playoff runs, it was all cheers. When the answer was nothing, it’s scorn and resentment? So what if Lebron only thought of himself, so were we as fans.

Some writers are calling this move bad p.r. They say this sort of betrayal will weigh on the hearts of his former fans. Some have burned his jersey, some have called him a traitor and most are thinking, “Why did I support this guy in the first place?” Perhaps my question is why we even give our life and souls to these players anyways? They say his brand is ruined. We should wonder, “What did this brand represent in the first place?”

Blaise Pascal talks about how jesters were an invention of the court to distract the King from the difficulties and pains of their leadership. Why ponder deep existential questions about kingdom work, when you have an idiot entertain you for a few hours each day? Meaningful self-reflection becomes less burdensome when society says the clown in front of you is more important. Pascal notes mindless diversion has become the forefront of our culture. Our priorities don’t have to get caught up in the mess of real life, say everyday betrayals in the lives of sex-trafficked children when we talk about Lebron’s “betrayal” to Cleveland.  Or whether Sudanese refuges have enough to eat when we could spend our time gabbing about whether the rest of Miami roster is enough to win them a championship. Sure the hardships don’t change when you stare at a clown,  but it helps you move on to the next day.

So Lebron is one of our court jesters. We worshiped him in our daily obsessions over his every move. Carl Trueman says the sin of idolatry has the nasty habit of turning you into the very idol you worshiped.  Before we tell Lebron how empty his soul is; what does it say about our own souls that we’ve been attentively following him for so long?

Jonah 2:8

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