OJ Simpson, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Jamarcus Russel, Tiger Woods, and now...Lebron James?
Okay, so that is a bit hyperbolic. But judging by the collective conniption of the US sports media, you would believe that Lebron James just committed one of the worst atrocities known to man. Yes people, it's true: Lebron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Miami Heat, teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and thus embarking on one of the most interesting sports experiments of late.
I've heard the arguments from the experts. ESPN's Bill Simmons threw a veritable hissy-fit decrying James' prime time announcement as "narcissistic" and the equivalent of driving a "pitchfork into the back of Cleveland."
Nonetheless, I, for one, wholly approve of James' decision to play for the Heat.
Before I say why, I want to make it clear that I'm no James apologist. I liked the idea of him toiling in Cleveland for the rest of his career, never mustering that extra push at the end of the season to win a championship. Regular post-mortems of opportunities lost, rife with prototypical excuses would surely amuse me; "he had no help" or "hey, the 2015 Washington Wizards were just too good for him to overcome" would be popular refrains.
And to be sure, his bloated PR push to fabricate drama and fanfare regarding his decision was unnecessary and probably, yes, narcissistic.
But who cares? I find the whole uproar over James' decision to be hugely hypocritical.
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.
Sure, Lebron turned his back on his home town. But his home town also turned its back on him, mismanaging their roster and failing to give him adequate help - the critical number two to his decidedly number one status. With each passing season, one could not help but feel that Cleveland just could not get it done. If what the critics of his play say is true - that Lebron lacks the killer instinct of Jordan, the do-anything work ethic of Kobe - then his move makes perfect sense.
Most of the world looks at Lebron and sees a selfish superstar with an inflated ego prioritizing his personal life and daily satisfaction over potentially becoming the greatest basketball player ever. They see a man who took the easy way out - a potential short-cut to a championship. They judge this decision as impure, or anathema to the competitive spirit that makes sports worth watching.
That is definitely one interpretation. But it is the wrong one. I look at Lebron and see a guy who understands the concepts of sunk costs and utility maximization. I see a young man my age looking to make career moves that will make him personally happy. But more than anything, I see a Lebron who has outsmarted us all, especially his detractors. He likely realizes that through some freak accident, he was endowed with a special skillset perfectly attuned to playing professional basketball. He also gets that society really values (perhaps overvalues?) this skill. Yes, he can make a living playing this game for other people's enjoyment. Or he can start enjoying things himself. Props to Lebron for doing what makes him happy.
All too often, I hear stories about people who are unhappy with their lives because they were busy pursuing other people's dreams. Cleveland's plight was not worth it to Lebron. I really sympathize with this. There's actually a pretty zen quality to the decision.
In a world where our athletes routinely disappoint us for breaking laws and otherwise being horrendous public citizens, I praise Lebron for simply doing what makes him happy. It is time we just leave Lebron alone.