The LeBron James Syndrome: How Much Is Enough for Today's Pro Athlete?

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The LeBron James Syndrome: How Much Is Enough for Today's Pro Athlete?
Al Bello/Getty Images

LeBron James has already made hundreds of millions of dollars playing the game of basketball, but he wants more. Either a fatter contract or credit for "sacrificing" for the good of the team—doesn't matter to 'Bron.

Phil Mickelson, himself a millionaire many times over courtesy of a kid's game, threatened to leave the state of California because of the crazy tax situation. Then he realized the idiocy of his comments—and the fact that he can afford to be legally domiciled in a tax-haven state while still living in Cali—and has been backpedaling faster than a sucker-punching Carmelo Anthony ever since.

When individuals who already have so much complain that it's not enough, it begs the question: How much is enough?

I'm not just talking about money.

Take, for instance, the seemingly pathological need for attention exhibited by some of the global leaders in the category. There's a reason the headline uses King James rather than Mickelson or any of the myriad pros who could justifiably claim eponymous honors.

Here he is tweeting out pictures of himself relaxing after a workout with some odd recuperative contraption on his body. Here he is wearing nonprescription glasses to the White House, just in case nobody notices the 6'8" monstrosity who's been invited to the President's pad to be honored. Here he is wearing a shirt featuring an enormous picture of his own face.

LBJ has already mastered the art of speaking about himself in the third person, so apparently he's graduated to dressing in it.

Again, I don't mean to pick on LeBron...well, I don't mean to pick exclusively on him.

The me-me-and-only-me attitude has spread far and wide.

Check out Kobe Bryant as Pau Gasol's injury reminds him to appreciate himself, listen to Dwight Howard explicitly saying it's all about him (which makes sense in this context, but last season proved D12's prism never leaves enough room for others) or take a gander at Bron-Bron starting a minor kerfuffle with the Black Mamba regarding who faces more scrutiny.

Got that? James finally has his ring, but now he needs acknowledgement that it was harder to get than anyone else's.

For an example of the ultimate conceit, however, allow me to introduce Ray Lewis's month-long proclamation that God was on his side.

That's some breathtaking self-obsession right there.

The supreme being—an omnipotence responsible for the creation of the entire universe—has a special place in its heart reserved just for Ray-Ray. Furthermore, instead of saving the millions of sick, starving, abused, oppressed, helpless and desperate innocents in the world, it's busy making sure a millionaire celebrity wins a football game.

Nor is the Ravens' Hall of Fame-bound linebacker the first professional athlete to dub himself one of God's chosen instruments. He's just the most recent...and obnoxious.

But what's the big deal, right? I can and certainly do ignore most of these shenanigans, so no harm, no foul.

Except that's not the case.

Take King James, for example, and consider the case of Michael Jordan.

LeBron is a physical freak. He's not quite a mutant, but he might as well be when you consider the superlative guard-like skills packaged in a body built for patrolling the middle of a football field and stretched to 80 inches. He is one of two superstars currently plying his trade who has the potential to transcend his sport and become something we've never seen.

Along with UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, James has the potential to combine the alien athleticism of Bo Jackson with the success and longevity of MJ.

That's scary for a lot of reasons, but not all of them are good, because what did His Airness do?

He spawned generations of wannabes who emulated his every move and mannerism. Are we really prepared for legions upon legions of mini-LeBrons? Ones who have the attitude, but lack the skills?

Seems like a really bad idea to me.

Forget the larger and highly speculative cultural impact, though.

All the self-importance and look-at-me shenanigans have a more direct and certain impact on the players. When you constantly draw attention to yourself away from the court, you make your personal life part of the spectacle. You also become a steaming pile of hypocrisy if you then complain about too much scrutiny (like, say, when some donkey names an unflattering syndrome after you).

Like the man said, when you dance with the devil, you wait for the song to stop. That goes double when you ask for the dance.

And then there's the money.

Oh, the money.

It's not that LBJ or Mickelson or anyone else who makes obscene gobs of cash has no right to complain about the government heist otherwise known as taxation. Nobody is or should be thrilled about a bunch of corrupt politicians reaching into their pocket to take more and more of their legally earned money.

Here's the thing, though: Everything is relative.

When LeBron complains in private about his ill-fitting diamond shoes, it's cool. He's just a dude who's down on his luck because the rest of the room has fancy shoes that fit. When LeBron complains in public, on the other hand, he's a jerk because the room now includes people with no shoes and others with no feet.

King James has accumulated more than $92 million playing the game of basketball. He's already served out a seven-year contract with Nike that paid him another $93 million and signed a second one—the terms of which were undisclosed.

So, yeah, he's probably underpaid if compared to other NBA stars or professional athletes.

But what of the fact that he's made over $200 million dribbling, dunking and shooting a ball? How about focusing on that instead? How about fixating on the fact that he makes more in one year than 99 percent of the planet will ever see over the course of a lifetime?

Why sift through your silver cloud to find its gray lining?

Nobody is suggesting these guys should give the money back or lobby their industries for fiscal responsibility. There are plenty of people who are overpaid, and not a one is saying, "This is ridiculous, stop paying me so much."

James, Mickelson and all the others make what the market pays them, and that's fine. I am not a communist; at least I hope not, because olive is not my color.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

All I'm saying is, how about a little perspective?

If you want to be the center of attention at all times, you better fly the straight and narrow or smile for the cameras when you don't. Complain all you want about the spillage when your cup runneth over, but make sure the audience's is full too.

Spare a couple seconds to think beyond yourself because things are getting out of hand.

Enough is enough.

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