Thursday, June 28, 2012

LeBron, Growing Up, and Hometown Loyalties

He has been a media sensation since junior high.  He went straight from high school to the NBA.  He's big and he's talented and he's a lightning rod for whatever you think about professional sports.

Upset about college players who are "one and done"?  How about a kid who's barely old enough to vote knocking bodies with grown men twice his age?  On the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, bigger and stronger than anyone anywhere with the talent to back it up, he stayed at home and played for his Cleveland Cavaliers, under the tutelage of Mike Brown, coach and mentor.
LeBron's wingspan was on a giant mural gracing downtown Cleveland, visible from the highway as you drove to town from the airport.  Cleveland was in love with their home town hero and he seemed to return the favor. 

The city was no longer the mistake by the lake.  It was the home of King James.

He had trouble finishing what he started.  He was never the clutch player the team required to become champions.  He learned and he grew but he never won.  Then, his contract up for negotiation, he made the only and the biggest mistake of his career.  Dragging the decision out ad nauseum, his televised special announcing that he was ditching Lake Erie for the Atlantic Ocean and Miami was a disaster of epic proportions.

He humiliated his home town.  He turned his back on the most loyal of loyal fans.  He made Cleveland feel second tier once again.  I know this is true because we have family there, and their outrage was everywhere - in emails, on Facebook, on Twitter and in real life.

They were really really bummed about it.  It reminded me of the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn.  Some wounds will never heal.

The Heat created a dream team around their new super hero, a team that went almost nowhere really fast.  And then, over the summer, the kid grew up.  I listened to TBG over the course of the NBA playoffs, and the rest of this post is the distillation of his impressions.  I can't take credit for originality here, but I think you'll be interested in his thoughts.

LeBron has grown up right before our eyes.  He was ashamed of how he played last year.  He was ashamed of how he handled his failures, which is more important.  He blamed everyone else - his teammates, his coaches, the media - until he woke up one day and realized that there is no progress unless you own your mistakes.

That's a hard lesson for anyone to learn, and an even more difficult one for a man in the spotlight.  Taking responsibility in public is a rare trait in an athlete; LeBron has said over and over this year that he did not do enough, that he was not focused enough, that he was responsible for his team's lack of success.  It was refreshing.  It was a fabulous object lesson for young players.  Telling the world that you didn't try hard enough, that your almost-best wasn't good enough, that's a story to tell and retell as you coach youngsters.

LeBron's never been in trouble with the law.  He's not been accused of domestic violence.  He made one very bad mistake in mis-treating Cleveland but, aside from that, he's not been the subject of late breaking news and the hoopla that goes with it. 

He doesn't have a fat head, and he deserves to have one.  There is no one playing basketball today with the size, strength and agility that he brings to the court.  Combined with his talent and skill, he's unstoppable, as the Thunder learned. 

In a funny way, TBG is proud of him.  It's a paternalistic feeling.  The kid keeps learning and growing.  He's open minded and willing to listen and change.  He's a real role model. 

That's a nice sentence to type.
There's a lot of hype and hyperbole and nonsense in professional sports.  There are also rare moments of class and style.

Scott Brooks, coach of the OKC Thunder, gave this speech to his team 2 minutes before the buzzer sounded on their resounding loss to LeBron's Miami Heat in the NBA championship series.  It's honest, it's thoughtful, it's focused and it's kind. 

Listen and see if you don't agree that this is a man you'd love to have coach your kids.

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