OK, Lebron James went to Miami. I think from a basketball standpoint, huge deal.
But morally? Please spare me the indignation people.
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?
Today, the TV announcers were discussing how impressed they were with Kurt Warner playing through his chest injury. One of them said, “I think Kurt Warner is gonna come back. There is nothing that can fill that void after you retire.” Not sure about either one of those comments. Adam Schefter reports nay on the first. As for the second….
I remember listening to the Michael Kay Show about how Wayne Chrebet said he was willing to take a few years away from his life to be able to play another year of football. If doctors hadn’t forced Wayne to stay off the field, many think he could have been either seriously injured or died. Yet, I am not sure he would be the only one to make such a decision either.
The NFL and its Commissioner, Roger Goodell, have been taking a lot of flak lately for not taking care of their players regarding major injuries esp. concussions. I don’t think the issue is as clear-cut as the NFL doesn’t care about its players. Many of these players who go out there and play choose to put themselves at great risk, willingly do so. An injury that causes a player to be out for the season is largely unsurprising to the average fan and par for the course in the NFL. What do you tell a player who got his “bell rung” if he wants to go back in the game? Not sure where you draw the line here since any hard rule will definitely interfere with the autonomy of players who are willing to put themselves out there. Like it or not, for some people like Wayne, football was life.
I do believe the NFL and its players union need to address a few issues:
1) Offer better assistance to many of the retirees who are severely disabled and indigent. A lot of old-timers who set the foundation for making the game what it was deserve some sort of help, especially since its due to the very sport they played and grew.
2) Teach players better about financial management. I think a lot of players are not careful to foresee their occupation leads to a lot of long-term issues. A lot of players find themselves often bankrupt/homeless etc. so one could imagine some might not even think about worsening disabilities or chronic pain. Not sure you can force players to set aside money if he wants to spend it on bling and Patron, but again maybe the NFL is not doing its end to inform.
3) Have the players union set up an insurance/pension pool where players can take care of its most severely injured or debilitated members.
Back to the void though. I do think something can fill that void.
Remember Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech? Don’t worry if you didn’t, I’d rather buy Preparation H and Immodium AD from the cute Walgreen’s girl than watch that again. MJ essentially defecated on everyone around him. If you watch the clips you’ll meet a man who still can’t grasp he’s not the King of the NBA anymore. You wonder why the greatest player ever, a man who should have no insecurity about his legacy, was still trying to settle scores with former rivals, was still stepping on other people’s accomplishments. Watching that puerile display, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he dropped his pants and challenged everyone to a penis-measuring contest.
Adrian Wojnarowski writes, “Jordan revealed himself to be strangely bitter. You won, Michael. You won it all. Yet he keeps chasing something that he’ll never catch, and sometimes, well, it all seems so hollow for him. ” 10 years ago, everyone wanted to be like Mike. I think he knows 50 years from now, he won’t be transcendental MJ. His legacy will survive as a statue, a video clip, or montage that says best ever, but he knows he won’t quite capture the imagination of those future generations. What does this mean for the rest of us, who have no chance to even be like MJ? C’est la vie (French words are always deliciously gratuitous and pretentious)
Nope. Let’s go back to Warner, one of my favorite players. Every time the man gets interviewed, production crews are trying to run a play-action to make sure he doesn’t thank his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on national television. Is he not a fiery competitor? Does he not care about winning? I don’t think anyone could say that. Yet, I am not sure retiring will leave such a void in his heart.
Pascal wrote about these voids. I often mis-quoted Pascal, so I’ll write the real quote:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”
I am not saying people without JC will suddenly be as petty as MJ. But give me Kurt over MJ any day. More on “God-shaped vacuums” later.