An Open Letter To LeBron James: Who Do You Want To Be?

Matt MessettContributor IMay 26, 2010

CLEVELAND - MAY 01: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts next to Anderson Varejao #17 after missing a layup against the Boston Celtics in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 1, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Dear LeBron James,

You have God-given abilities and God-given physical talents that are mind-boggling to the average person, whether that person is basketball-savvy or not. It’s the basketball-savvy people, though, that are puzzled by you.

They cannot, for the life of them, figure out what it is you want.

Do you want to be LeBron James—the transcendent, multi-champion basketball player, who by the time his career is finished will force us to contemplate (not necessarily declare) that he may be better than Michael Jordan?

Do you want to be LeBron James—the transcendent athlete that gave us “OMG” moment after “OMG” moment?

Or, do you simply want to be LeBron James—the transcendent billionaire basketball mogul; the man that challenged Michael in the boardroom, but not on the court?

Each time you play the game, people see your gazelle-like figure knifing through the paint to the basket. They see a tight-end in basketball shorts barrelling his way to the hole with unmatched force. What they don’t see, however, is the polish or killer instinct that made Michael, Larry, Kobe, et al., who they are today.

Players like Michael, Larry, and Kobe have a primal urge inside them to win at all costs. People say LeBron is the next Jordan? Would Lebron James bribe an airplane clerk to put his bag first on the conveyor belt and then bet his teammates that his luggage would come off first? Would Lebron fight to win with every ounce of his being, in sickness and health, because there was no other option?

The answers to those questions are either “No” or “I don’t know,” which is not good.

We shouldn't be questioning your instinct seven years in, not with the hype that surrounds you. When Michael, Kobe, or Larry made a game-winning shot, what did they do?

They gave a nice, tepid fist-pump, and played it casual.

They acted as if the shot was going in the whole time and required no further self-affirmation.

They corralled their teammates’ excitement as a reminder that their game-winning shot did nothing more than turn on the countdown clock until the next game.

When you do something spectacular, we see you hop around like a kid who drained a half-courter in a CYO game. We see a guy perform a choreographed dance routine or handshake with his teammates and then pose for an imaginary photo.

The basketball-savvy think to themselves, “How nice. Man, that LeBron is quite a character.” Here’s some food for thought, Lebron. You know all that time you spend making up those knee-slapping routines with your teammates? Refocus that energy on meditation. Build up immunity to the pomp and circumstance around you. Acquire the instinct to go for the kill and act as if you’ve done it before. Only then will you realize what is you want and how you want to be remembered.

I’ll close with some thoughts about the summer ahead of you.

Those in the know are well-aware of the game you are currently playing and will continue to play. You and your “family” will leave the league and its fans hanging for as long as possible, because it's in your best interests to do so.

And hey, I have no problem with all that jazz. What I do care about is that you make the right decision in terms of what you think puts you in the best position to win at all costs.

Don’t pick a place because of the endorsement opportunities; You are LeBron James. You could play for Efes Pilsen in Istanbul and still get all the outside fame and money you desire and become the Jay-Z of the NBA.

Don’t pick a place based on what your free-agent buddies do. You’ve done well to this point without them. You must be the alpha dog, and the only alpha dog, otherwise you will never get full credit for your potential successes (See: Kobe with Shaq).

Pick a place that provides you with the best chance to win short-term and long-term, and a place that provides a comfortable fit for you on its roster.

Take the reins of a franchise and refuse to look back, only looking towards the glory that you can attain in the future, as your own man; a man with purpose.

As Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.”

This summer we will learn just how much you really want it.


Matt Messett