LeBron James, Winning, And The "American Dream"

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We love "winners" and despise "losers." Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson are praised for their championships. Are Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing not "winners" because they didn’t win championships in a sport we profess is a team game?

[Speaking Truth To Power]

LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat has caused a backlash unlike any in recent sports history. What does this unpopular "decision" say about him and America?

In an ESPN special dubbed "The Decision," James told a riveted sports nation he’ll team-up with Miami’s all-star guard Dwayne Wade and power-forward Chris Bosh.

Bosh, another of this year’s main free agents, signed days before. Bosh’s acquisition, a lynch-pin in acquiring James, was orchestrated by wily Pat Riley. After a half-hour, sports reporter Jim Gray asked the only question millions cared about "LeBron what’s your decision?"

James answered, "In this fall, this is very tough; in this fall I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat." Immediately, hostility ensued. Cleveland fans denounced James as a "quitter." Some burned his number 23 jersey. Others cried. Then, Cavaliers’ owner, Dan Gilbert, threw gasoline into the already combustible situation.

In the now infamous "Open Letter" Gilbert attacked James. Gilbert described James’ departure as a "cowardly" act exhibiting a "shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own." He added "This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown ‘chosen one’ sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn." Gilbert angrily stated "I personally guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former 'king' wins one."

Hallucinations aside, one can understand Cleveland’s disappointment. They haven’t won a professional sports championship since 1964, when Jim Brown’s Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship. With LeBron’s exodus, that drought continues.

The departure of LeBron, and subsequent fallout, is instructive of several things wrong in America. Like many, part of me is saddened by LeBron’s leaving Cleveland.

There’s something to be said for sticking with your team through struggles. True, Kevin Garnett spent 12 fruitless seasons in Minnesota. Yet, there is also Paul Pierce who spent 10 years in a Celtic jersey before winning NBA gold and MVP honors in the 2008 NBA Championship. However, realistically, given the selfish nature of America’s corporate structure, dedication and loyalty are usually defined in individualistic terms.

Everyday dedicated workers, who give their all too corporate companies, are callously and routinely kicked to the curb. Years ago, I was given walking papers from a company I labored at almost ten years. Lower-paid new arrivals were kept. The "severance pay" they gave me, for my long hours of conscientious, dutiful service, is too pitifully to print here.

Dan Gilbert called LeBron "narcissistic" and spoke of "disloyalty" because he stampeded for greener pastures in Miami. As a friend pointed out, this is the same owner who just fired Coach Mike Brown. During Brown's tenure, he had a 272-138 record for a .663 win percentage, highest in Cavalier history, surpassing Brooklyn-born Hall-of-Famer Lenny Wilkens. If it’s alright for Mr. Gilbert to give up on Brown, why can’t LeBron "quit" on Cleveland? We live in a throw-away society, where it’s about "getting mine." LeBron did what corporate executives do everyday: he made a decision based on his wants.

Lebron defenders argue his decision shows he cares more about winning championships than making money. That’s partially true. Cleveland could’ve given him more money that Miami. Yet, given the lucrative nature of his marketing brand, Lebron could afford to make that "sacrifice." Moreover, Miami championships mean he’ll recoup those earnings.

The truth is there’re no guiltless parties here. We’ve all been compromised by an American ideal that subjugates community for individuality. "Winning" in America is perverted and cheapened. The "ends justify the means." We’re a "win" at any cost society. We have no moral compass.

Remember twelve-year-old Jeffrey Maier and his spectator interference in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship between the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees? Maier deflected a fly-ball from Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter into the stands, which was mistakenly ruled a home-run. The Yankees won the game and series. The real story was the hero treatment Maier received. The Daily News gave him seats behind the Yankees’ dugout in subsequent games. He went on national shows, like David Letterman. And Mayor Rudolph Giuliani awarded him the key to New York City. What lessons did this teach?

Recently, there’s been talk about steroid use "cheating" in baseball. In my teen years, as an avid baseball player and student of the game, I remember reading about "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and the fixing of the 1919 World Series, and of Hall-of-Fame pitchers like Gaylord Perry and Don Drysdale who used illegal pitches, like the spitball. They wanted to "win" so badly.

Later, I learned Blacks, like brothers Moses and Welday Walker, played Major League Baseball—before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line—but were forced out by the rising racism of Jim Crow after Reconstruction. White players feared losing to Blacks.

The essential point here: America is a place where most do anything to "win."

We love "winners" and despise "losers." Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson are praised for their championships. We, supposedly, extol teamwork but only remember "superstars." Are Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing not "winners" because they didn’t win championships in a sport we profess is a team game?

Given this distorted reality, isn’t LeBron’s "decision" a manifestation of his attempt to secure a "winning" place within the "American Dream?"

"Speaking Truth To Empower."


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