Last week LeBron James publicly stated his intention to change his jersey number next season from “23” to “6” out of respect to Michael Jordan. He also went on to express his belief that the no other NBA player should wear the number in recognition of Jordan’s accomplishments and influence on the league.
“I just think that what Michael Jordan has done for the game has to be recognized in some way soon,” James said. “There would be no LeBron James, no Kobe Bryant, no Dwyane Wade if there wasn’t Michael Jordan first.”
On the surface, LeBron’s “tribute” seems to be honorable and altruistic, but I challenge you to look beyond the obvious to uncover the truth behind his motives and before you vilify me or jump to the most obvious conclusion, let me assure you that his motives go beyond the obvious.
LeBron James is already one of the richest men on the planet, so I assure you it’s not just about stimulating jersey sales.
Why would a young LeBron James, widely considered to be on the path for basketball immortality, want to separate himself from a number almost universally associated with Michael Jordan, the player who must be supplanted in order to reach the highest level of fame?
If you answer this question in a way that implies James had no self-serving motives and that it truly was done as an acknowledgment of Michael Jordan’s greatness, well you would simply be wrong.
Let me explain.
Imagine that James is able to assert his influence on this matter in such a way that the NBA eventually retires the number “23”. This would establish precedence for the recognition of greatness by means of retiring a jersey number league-wide.
James made it obvious that this he is trying to use his position to influence this outcome.
“I feel like no NBA player should wear 23. I’m starting a petition and I’ve got everyone in the NBA to sign it.” James said. “Now, if I’m not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it.”
Now here’s where his strategy comes into play.
If the precedence does become established via the retirement of the number “23” and LeBron never changes his number, it would therefore be impossible for him to be recognized in the same fashion since he wears the same number.
But, if LeBron does in fact change his number from “23” to “6” and the same precedence has already been set, he would then be in a position to use history as a spring board for his own immortality.
Put simply, James is championing the movement to get Jordan’s number retired so that the path has been laid for the eventual retirement of his own.
It’s quite clever actually. What better way is there to disguise an egotistically driven motive than by burying it within a seemingly benevolent tribute? It is a political tactic that dates back as far as history has been recorded.
It’s ironic actually. The same egocentric motives that underlie his current tactics are the driving force behind his decision to choose “23” in the first place. It was his arrogance that led him to believe he could replace Jordan’s footprint on the NBA when he entered the league and it is his arrogance that now leads him to believe he can become celebrated alongside of him.
I caution every NBA fan to really question the premature legend that we have bestowed upon LeBron. The man undoubtedly has talent, but unless we begin to reign in his insufferable ego, I think he may be on a path to become a cautionary rather than a celebrated tale.
It’s never as innocuous as it seems on the surface and this case is no different. LeBron’s actions go far beyond an attempt to stimulate jersey sales or an inadvertent insinuation to his own greatness. This is his attempt to establish a precedence unto his own and one by which he can cement his place in history.