LeBron James and the Absence of Basketball Bushido

Andrew WillinghamContributor IJuly 19, 2010

MIAMI - JULY 09:  (L-R) Chris Bosh #1, Dwyane Wade #3, and LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat are introduced during a welcome party at American Airlines Arena on July 9, 2010 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

I can’t stand idly by anymore. Not after this: “LeBron Leaves Cleveland: Basketball Fans Rejoice?” Are you kidding me?!

As a writer, I understand it is part of the job to generate some controversy, but I can’t believe that a former Sonic fan would forget so quickly what it feels like to be abandoned by something you love.

While it is true that Cleveland still has a team, and while I’d love to have a LeBron-less Cavs than no team at all, it is also true that LeBron James was synonymous with basketball in Cleveland. He was the hometown hero, the Chosen One, the King of Akron; he single-handedly saved a perennially bad franchise and it meant something that he was from Cleveland. No player could have been as popular and as loved as LeBron James was in Cleveland.

As a former Seattle fan, and as someone who loves sports in general, I was rooting for LeBron to stay in Cleveland. Perhaps it is unfair, but I felt that LeBron choosing to stay would prove that there is some honor left in sports.

And as much as I love to see a super-elite triumvirate like James, Wade, and Bosh destroy lesser competition, I love a hometown hero more.

I had high hopes for LeBron. I cheered for him over Kobe. I felt that he was different than the super-ego superstars like Jordan, Kobe, and Shaq. I thought he might be the first superstar to care more about his teammates, his childhood friends, and his hometown than the Hollywood lifestyle or being featured in Hollywood Tonight and US Weekly. But as we found out, off the court, LeBron is no different than other egomaniacal superstars.

And on the court, we learned that LeBron doesn’t have the killer instinct and drive to win a championship as the Alpha-Dog of a team. Besides shunning his hometown of Cleveland, by joining Miami, LeBron has forfeited his chance to become one of the best basketball players of all time. He is certainly one of the greatest athletes the game has ever seen, but his decision not to win championships as an Alpha-Dog precludes him from being included as part of the Jordan, Bird, Magic, Kareem, Russell pantheon. I find this sad.

Everyone loved to talk about how much fun LeBron had playing in Cleveland last year: the team introductions, dance choreography, silly celebrations; all were indications that LeBron was having the time of his life, that he didn’t need a major market, constant TV attention, and the ego-grooming that some of the league’s best require.

But LeBron needs all these things and under the guise of his free agency Decision being “all about winning” he has decided to take his talents to South Beach next year.

And Miami will win a lot of games.

But few events in recent memory have generated so much controversy as LeBron’s decision to play in Miami. Why was “The Decision” so polarizing? Let me answer that question with another question: “Why do we watch sports?”

I’m no scientist, but I think we love sports because, as humans, we love competition. Our evolution involved a great deal of fighting for resources, territory, and mates. Now that we have created a society in which physical confrontation over these key aspects of life are restricted to safe, civilized challenges, we need an outlet for our savage, animalistic desire to see physical competition; sports fill this void.

We love to see one man or woman struggle to become the best at what they do. Lance Armstrong. Michael Jordan. Bill Russell. John Wooden. Jack Nicklaus. Serena Williams. Roger Federer. Jackie Joyner-Kersee. These men and women are winners. They practiced harder, prepared more carefully, and pushed themselves farther than anyone else. They held themselves to higher standards, made a habit of winning, and won on their own terms.

And while LeBron, Dwayne, and Chris will be entertaining to watch, James’ legacy is now forever tarnished. Miami is Dwayne’s team, not LeBron’s, and James’ decision to team up with another superstar and an all-star in an effort to win a championship, as if that will somehow validate his status as a player, demonstrates the lack of drive and confidence he has in himself.

And while LeBron’s lack of competitive drive causes us to reform our opinions about his legacy and accept that he can no longer become the best player of all time, his decision to abandon his hometown in an effort to achieve false glory is truly disappointing.

To go on national television and rip the heart out of every fan in your hometown, during your own hour long, prime time special, called “The Decision” (with a capital “D”), on which you promise to announce your Decision during the first 10 minutes, but actually wait more than a half-hour to do so, is downright despicable.

So screw the statistical models, the bandwagon fans, and the salivating basketball pundits who want to see a Miami dream team destroy the competition for years to come. Basketball is about more than winning- it is about honor. It is about respect. It is about loyalty to the game, to your teammates, and to your city.

The Japanese Samurai had a code of honor they followed called “Bushido.” It had seven virtues that all warriors strived to follow: Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, Honor, and Loyalty.

Sports today are motivated by little more than fame and money. The recent college football scandals and violations are a testament to this sad fact. Players like Cal Ripken Jr., John Elway, and Payton Manning, whose loyalty to their cities was as important as their sports successes, are becoming more and more rare. Somehow it has become acceptable in America to switch allegiances without regard to past loyalties, as long as it gives you a better chance to win. It’s an attitude of entitlement, of taking the easiest route possible, of trying to shortcut the path to greatness.

There is no shortcut to greatness, as the legends will tell you, and as LeBron will soon find out. I would encourage him and other sports figures to examine the Bushido; to become true warriors, to fight for something bigger than themselves. Have the Rectitude to achieve greatness, value Honesty more than money, fight for Honor instead of fame.

When his playing days are long over, I imagine LeBron will wonder what could have been, what he could have achieved, what he could have become and regret The Decision.


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