LeBron James Isn't The Best Role Model, But We Have Had Unfair Expectations
You’ve been working at your hometown restaurant for a few years, but you and your friend have always worked incredibly well together. It is likely that you will become even more successful by teaming up with him and one of your dreams is to open up your restaurant with your buddy.
Every day this happens. People switch companies for all sorts of reasons. And sometimes they are judged for their decision to make a change, but for the most part everyone understands that they are making a business decision.
One of the most famous days that one of these decisions ever took place on is July 8, 2010. With the entire world watching, LeBron James announced that he was going to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
Now, LeBron played “The Decision” pretty poorly. He came off as pretentious and ungrateful and Cleveland fans have every right to be upset with him for that. And then, of course, he compounded his mistake with that tacky introduction with Wade and Bosh, as they promised they would win eight championships.
But, looking at it more generally, LeBron did something that people do everyday. He switched cities, so he could work with his friends and become more successful, and then he celebrated as anyone would after making an important career decision.
The problem is that a lot of us think that LeBron should want to win a title without the help of another superstar let alone two, so what he did seems like a cop-out.
The truth is that while we are fortunate to have been able to have watched alpha dog players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant among others, it is also unfortunate because they raised our expectations for how a star player should behave, which forces us to wonder why LeBron doesn’t have the same competitive attitude.
MJ won six titles and he didn’t switch teams during his prime. Certainly, he had friends in the league, but you didn’t see him head to Phoenix to team up with Charles Barkley or New York to join Patrick Ewing. He was lucky that Phil Jackson was hired to coach the Bulls and terrific players like Scottie Pippen ended up in Chicago, but he was always the unquestioned leader.
Meanwhile, Kobe was also lucky to have Phil and he had Shaq for his three-peat. Of course, he kicked Shaq out of L.A., so it would be clear to everyone that he was the leader, but even though Pau Gasol joined the Lakers soon after, it was obvious that Kobe was still the go-to guy.
It makes you wonder: What if Cleveland had the cap space that Miami did in 2010? Instead of LeBron joining the Heat, what if Wade and Bosh had become Cavaliers? Would LeBron still be seen as weak?
Of course, that’s just hypothetical, but it is unlikely that Dwyane Wade would have left the Heat to join the Cavs because unlike LeBron, he was born with the same competitive mentality as Kobe—that’s why it took so long for Wade to let LeBron take the Heat over.
But the fact that LeBron doesn’t have that same need to be the “go-to guy” that Wade does is a problem for us in a day and age where we are surrounded by constantly updated news stories and a popular culture that glorifies super heroes.
When someone famous does something great or awful, it is instantly spread all over the Internet. When a major event occurs, whether it is tragic or wonderful, you will see it on the news. And while something might happen that has a large impact on the world, it can easily be trivialized due to information overflow. And what that does is it makes it harder to care. There are just too many stories out there to connect with all of them.
So, if someone or something demands our attention…well, it better be worth our attention. Otherwise, we’ll change the channel or head to the next webpage to find something we think is more important.
The point is that when we have so much we can choose to pay attention to, we want to be excited and impressed by news stories that we feel like we have to follow.
For a true sports fan, it might feel necessary to follow LeBron. He’s the best basketball player on the planet and if you don’t know what’s going on with him then you might feel out of touch. But then, when he isn’t acting like the leader that MJ or Kobe was…it feels like he’s letting us down.
Now, LeBron didn’t help his reputation by joining Wade and Bosh in Miami and he never should have appeared in that introduction video. He also probably shouldn’t have trivialized everyone’s lives after the 2011 NBA Finals when he said that everyone would have to stop overanalyzing his failure to win a championship and go back to their lives.
At the same time, while LeBron has made mistakes, it’s our own fault for making it seem like LeBron’s role as the “Best Basketball Player in the World” means anything more than that. Just because he’s incredible at playing basketball doesn’t mean we have to look up to him as a person. In fact, it’s wrong for us to expect his behavior to be worthy of admiration just because other people in his position have become role models.
It also hasn’t helped that we have had tons of blockbuster movies come out about super heroes in the past few years. It seemed to have started in 2002 when Tobey Maguire played Spiderman and now it seems like Marvel and DC Comics have a new hero movie coming out each week.
Movies and television have always impacted the way we think. There is a reason why people protest films that they think promote a message that they believe shouldn’t be spread.
And with these hero movies, it almost seems reasonable to have higher standards for the behavior of the people we are constantly given information about by the media, especially athletes. The problem is that we expect to be impressed by these people, but then when they don’t act the way we believe that they should—they’re disappointments.
So is that fair for LeBron? He was born without the same competitiveness that Kobe and MJ naturally had and he’s been immature at times, but is it fair for us to expect him to act more like a role model?
Let’s take a closer look at Spiderman for a minute. In the movie, Peter Parker’s uncle, Ben Parker, tells him “With great power comes great responsibility.” And Spiderman recognizes in the sequel that his personal life isn’t as important as fighting crime and helping others in need.
LeBron isn’t Spiderman, but should he be more accountable for his actions than everyone else because we look up to him? It isn’t his fault that our society put him on a pedestal, but maybe he should act more mature and learn to become the leader we expect him to be since he is going to be admired whether he wants to be or not.
At the end of the day, LeBron probably regrets some of the comments he’s made (ie the 2011 NBA Finals comments) and some of the things he’s done (ie “The Decision”), but he shouldn’t have to be a role model just because he’s good at playing basketball.
The issue is that while he might not be worth all of the attention he gets, LeBron will always be seen as someone who deserves it. Because he is one of the most gifted athletes the world has ever seen, LeBron will always have the world analyzing his every action and every word. While he wasn’t born with the personality of a Kobe or an MJ, we will continue to treat him like he should have been born that way because we want to keep our high expectations.
What it still comes down to—even if it’s just in the back of our minds at this point—is that two years ago LeBron left his hometown team to play with his friends, and a lot of us think that is unacceptable for someone who should be capable of winning a championship on his own.
Certainly, it was surprising since we had never seen a player on this grand of a stage, who is the best there is at his sport, join his buddies so it would be easier for him to find success.
But maybe there isn’t anything wrong with that.
Maybe our expectations are too high and we should just accept LeBron for who he is: An amazing once-in-a-lifetime talent who just wasn’t born to be a role model.