Lebron James Role Model Essay About Mother
"LeBron" redirects here. For other uses, see Lebron (disambiguation).
James with the Cavaliers in 2017
|No. 23 – Cleveland Cavaliers|
|Born||(1984-12-30) December 30, 1984 (age 33)|
|Listed height||6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)|
|Listed weight||250 lb (113 kg)|
|High school||St. Vincent–St. Mary|
|NBA draft||2003 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1st overall|
|Selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Stats at NBA.com|
|Stats at Basketball-Reference.com|
LeBron Raymone James Sr. (; born December 30, 1984) is an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Widely regarded as one of the greatest NBA players of all time, he has won three NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, three NBA Finals MVP Awards, three NBA All-Star Game MVP Awards, two Olympic gold medals, an NBA scoring title, and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. James is a 14-time NBA All-Star, 11-time All-NBA first teamer, and five-time All-Defensive first teamer. He is also the Cavaliers' all-time scoring leader, the NBA All-Star Game career scoring leader, and the NBA career playoff scoring leader.
James played high school basketball at St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, where he was highly promoted in the national media as a future NBA superstar. After graduating, he was selected by his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft. James led Cleveland to the franchise's first Finals appearance in 2007, ultimately losing to the San Antonio Spurs. In 2010, he left the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, a controversial move featured in an ESPN special titled The Decision. James spent four seasons with the Heat, reaching the Finals all four years and winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013. In 2013, he led Miami on a 27-game winning streak, the third longest in league history. Following his final season with the Heat in 2014, James opted out of his contract and returned to the Cavaliers. From 2015 to 2017, he led the Cavaliers to three consecutive Finals, winning his third championship in 2016 to end Cleveland's 52-year professional sports title drought.
Off the court, James has accumulated considerable wealth and fame from numerous endorsement contracts. His public life has been the subject of much scrutiny, and he has been ranked as one of America's most influential and popular athletes. He has been featured in books, documentaries, commercials, television shows, and movies.
James was born on December 30, 1984 in Akron, Ohio to a 16-year-old mother, Gloria Marie James, who raised him on her own.:22 When James was growing up, life was often a struggle for the family, as they moved from apartment to apartment in the seedier neighborhoods of Akron while Gloria struggled to find steady work. Realizing that her son would be better off in a more stable family environment, Gloria allowed him to move in with the family of Frank Walker, a local youth football coach, who introduced James to basketball when he was nine years old.:23
As a youth, James played Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball for the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars. The team enjoyed success on a local and national level, led by James and his friends Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, and Willie McGee.:24 The players were inseparable and dubbed themselves the "Fab Four", promising each other that they would attend high school together.:27 In a move that stirred local controversy, they chose to attend St. Vincent–St. Mary High School, a predominately white private Catholic school.
High school career
As a freshman, James averaged 21 points and 6 rebounds per game for the St. Vincent-St. Mary varsity basketball team. The Fighting Irish finished the year 27–0, winning the Division III state title. As a sophomore, James averaged 25.2 points and 7.2 rebounds with 5.8 assists and 3.8 steals per game. For some home games during the season, St. Vincent-St. Mary played at the University of Akron's 5,492-seat Rhodes Arena to satisfy ticket demand from alumni, fans, and college and NBA scouts who wanted to see James play.:51 The Fighting Irish finished the season 26–1 and repeated as state champions. For his outstanding play, James was named Ohio Mr. Basketball and selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team, becoming the first sophomore to do either.
Prior to the start of James's junior year, he appeared in SLAM Magazine and was lauded as possibly "the best high school basketball player in America right now" by writer Ryan Jones. During the season, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, becoming the first high school basketball underclassman to do so.:104 With averages of 29 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 3.3 steals per game, he was again named Ohio Mr. Basketball and selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team, and became the first junior to be named boys' basketball Gatorade National Player of the Year.:117 St. Vincent-St. Mary finished the year with a 23–4 record, ending their season with a loss in the Division II championship game.:114 Following the loss, James unsuccessfully petitioned for a change to the NBA's draft eligibility rules, which required prospective players to have at least a high school diploma, in an attempt to enter the 2002 NBA draft. During this time, he used marijuana, which he said was to help cope with the stress that resulted from the constant media attention he was receiving.
Throughout his senior year, James and the Fighting Irish traveled around the country to play a number of nationally ranked teams, including a game against Oak Hill Academy that was nationally televised on ESPN2.:142Time Warner Cable, looking to capitalize on James's popularity, offered St. Vincent-St. Mary's games to subscribers on a pay-per-view basis throughout the season.:143 For the year, James averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 3.4 steals per game, was named Ohio Mr. Basketball and selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team for an unprecedented third consecutive year,:178 and was named Gatorade National Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. He participated in three year-end high school basketball all-star games—the EA SportsRoundball Classic, the Jordan Capital Classic, and the McDonald's All-American Game—losing his National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) eligibility and making it official that he would enter the 2003 NBA draft. Many basketball analysts, scouts, and writers have remarked that James left high school as one of the best and most hyped prospects of all-time.:142
Also during his senior year, James was the centerpiece of several controversies. For his 18th birthday, he skirted state amateur bylaws by accepting a Hummer H2 from his mother, who had secured a loan for the vehicle by utilizing LeBron's future earning power as a professional athlete. This prompted an investigation by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) because its guidelines stated that no amateur may accept any gift valued over $100 as a reward for athletic performance. James was cleared of any wrongdoing because he had accepted the gift from a family member and not from an agent or any outside source. Later in the season, James accepted two throwback jerseys worth $845 from an urban clothing store in exchange for posing for pictures, officially violating OHSAA rules and resulting in him being stripped of his high school sports eligibility. James appealed the ruling and his penalty was eventually dropped to a two-game suspension, allowing him to play the remainder of the year. The Irish were also forced to forfeit one of their wins, their only official loss that season. In his first game back after the suspension, James scored a career-high 52 points.
James played wide receiver for St. Vincent-St. Mary's football team and was recruited by some Division I programs, including Notre Dame.:51 As a sophomore, he was named first team all-state, and as a junior, he helped lead the Fighting Irish to the state semifinals. He decided to stop playing high school football before his senior year, after he broke his wrist during an AAU basketball game. Many sports analysts, football critics, high school coaches, and former and current players have speculated on whether he could have played in the National Football League.:91
Cleveland Cavaliers (2003–2010)
Rookie season (2003–2004)
James was selected by his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft. In his first regular season game, he scored 25 points against the Sacramento Kings, setting an NBA record for most points scored by a prep-to-pro player in his debut performance. At the conclusion of the season, he was named the NBA Rookie of the Year, finishing with averages of 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. He became the first Cavalier to receive the honor and just the third player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game as a rookie. The Cavaliers finished the season 35–47, failing to make the playoffs despite an 18-game improvement over the previous year.
Rise to superstardom (2004–2008)
James earned his first NBA All-Star Game selection in 2004–05, contributing 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in a winning effort for the Eastern Conference. Around the league, teams took note of his rapid development, with Denver Nuggets coach George Karl telling Sports Illustrated, "It's weird talking about a 20-year-old kid being a great player, but he is a great player ... He's the exception to almost every rule." On March 20, James scored 56 points against the Toronto Raptors, setting Cleveland's new single-game points record. With final averages of 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 2.2 steals per game, he was named to his first All-NBA Team. Despite a 30–20 record to start the year, the Cavaliers again failed to make the playoffs, finishing the season 42–40.
At the 2006 All-Star Game, James led the East to victory with 29 points and was named the NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player. Behind final season averages of 31.4 points, 7 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game, he also finished second in overall NBA Most Valuable Player Award voting to Steve Nash. Under James's leadership, the Cavaliers qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1998. In his postseason debut, James recorded a triple-double in a winning effort versus the Washington Wizards. In Game 3 of the series, he made the first game-winning shot of his career, making another in Game 5. Cleveland would go on to defeat the Wizards before being ousted by the Detroit Pistons in the second round.
In 2006–07, James's averages declined to 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. Some analysts attributed the fall to a regression in his passing skills and shot selection, stemming from a lack of effort and focus. The Cavaliers finished the season with 50 wins for the second consecutive year and entered the playoffs as the East's second seed. In Game 5 of the NBA Conference Finals, James notched 48 points with 9 rebounds and 7 assists, scoring 29 of Cleveland's last 30 points, including the game-winning layup with two seconds left, against the Pistons. After the game, play-by-play announcer Marv Albert called the performance "one of the greatest moments in postseason history" and color commentator Steve Kerr described it as "Jordan-esque". In 2012, ESPN ranked the performance the fourth greatest in modern NBA playoff history. The Cavaliers went on to win Game 6 and claim their first-ever Eastern Conference championship, earning them a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. During the championship round, James struggled, averaging 22 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game on just 35.6 percent shooting, and Cleveland was eliminated in a sweep.
In February of the 2007–08 season, James was named All-Star Game MVP for the second time behind a 27-point, 8-rebound, and 9-assist performance. On March 21, he moved past Brad Daugherty as the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer in a game against the Raptors, doing so in over 100 less games than Daugherty. His 30 points per game were also the highest in the league, representing his first scoring title. Despite his individual accomplishments, Cleveland's record fell from the year before to 45–37. Seeded fourth in the East entering the playoffs, the Cavaliers defeated the Wizards in the first round for the third consecutive season before being eliminated in seven games by the eventual-champion Boston Celtics in the next round. During the decisive seventh game in Boston, James scored 45 points and Paul Pierce scored 41 in a game the Associated Press described as a "shootout".
First MVP tenure (2008–2010)
At the conclusion of the 2008–09 season, James finished second in NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting and made his first NBA All-Defensive Team, posting 23 chase-down blocks and a career-high 93 total blocks. He also became only the fourth postmerger player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks in a single season. Behind his play and the acquisition of All-Star guard Mo Williams, Cleveland went a franchise record 66–16 and fell just one game short of matching the best home record in league history. With final averages of 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game, James became the first Cavalier to win the MVP Award. Reflecting on James's performance for ESPN, John Hollinger later wrote, "He's having what is arguably the greatest individual season in history, and it's time we gave him his due for it."
In the playoffs, Cleveland swept the Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks to earn a matchup with the Orlando Magic in the Conference Finals. In Game 1 of the series, James scored 49 points on 66 percent shooting in a losing effort for the Cavaliers. In Game 2, he hit a game-winner to tie the series at 1–1. Cleveland would lose the series in six games, and following the loss in Game 6, James immediately left the floor without shaking hands with his opponents, which was an act that many media members viewed as unsportsmanlike. For the series, he averaged 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game, finishing the postseason with a career playoff-high 35.3 points per game.
In February of the 2009–10 season, James was forced into a temporary point guard role following a series of injuries to the Cavaliers' backcourt. Behind his leadership, Cleveland lost no momentum, finishing the year with the best record in the league for the second consecutive season. Due in part to his increased minutes as the Cavaliers' primary ball handler, James increased his statistical production, averaging 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1 block per game on 50 percent shooting en route to another MVP Award. To open the playoffs, Cleveland advanced past the Bulls to earn a matchup with the Celtics in the second round. James was heavily criticized for not playing well in Game 5 of the series, shooting only 20 percent on 14 shots and scoring 15 points. The team suffered its worst loss in franchise history, and at the conclusion of the game, James walked off the court to a smattering of boos from Cleveland's home crowd. The Cavaliers were officially eliminated from the postseason in Game 6, with James posting 27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists, and nine turnovers in the losing effort.
2010 free agency
Main article: The Decision (TV special)
James became an unrestricted free agent at 12:01 am EDT on July 1, 2010. During this time, he was contacted by several teams, including the Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, and Cavaliers. On July 8, he announced on a live ESPN special titled The Decision that he would sign with the Heat. The telecast was broadcast from the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, Connecticut and raised $2.5 million for the charity. An additional $3.5 million was raised from advertising revenue, which was donated to other charities. The day before the special, fellow free agents Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade had also announced that they would sign with Miami; reports later arose that the trio had discussed their upcoming 2010 free agencies among themselves back in 2006. James decided to join with Bosh and Wade in part so that he could shoulder less of the offensive load; he thought that his improved teammates would give him a better chance of winning an NBA championship than had he stayed in Cleveland. Heat president Pat Riley played a major role in selling James on the idea of playing with Bosh and Wade. James would be relieved of the burden of scoring, and he thought he could be the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double in a season.
James drew intense criticism from sports analysts, executives, fans, and current and former players for leaving the Cavaliers. The Decision itself was also scrutinized and viewed as unnecessary. Many thought that the prolonged wait for James's choice was unprofessional as not even the teams courting him were aware of his decision until moments before the show. Upon learning that James would not be returning to Cleveland, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert published an open letter to fans in which he aggressively denounced James's actions. Some angry fans of the team recorded videos of themselves burning his jersey. Former NBA players, including Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, were also critical of James, condemning him for joining with Bosh and Wade in Miami and not trying to win a championship as "the guy". James drew further criticism in a September interview with CNN when he claimed that race might have been a factor in the fallout from The Decision. As a result of his actions during the 2010 free agency period, he quickly gained a reputation as one of America's most disliked athletes, a radical change from years prior. The phrase "taking my talents to South Beach" became a punch line for critics.
Immediately following The Decision, James claimed that there was nothing he would change about the handling of his free agency despite all the criticism. During the 2010–11 season, he expressed some regret, admitting, "[I] probably would do it a little bit different ... But I'm happy with my decision." Before the 2011–12 season, he relented, "... if the shoe was on the other foot and I was a fan, and I was very passionate about one player, and he decided to leave, I would be upset too about the way he handled it."
Miami Heat (2010–2014)
Year of controversy (2010–2011)
James officially became a member of the Heat on July 10, 2010. With the move, he became only the third reigning MVP to change teams and the first since Moses Malone in 1982. That evening, the Heat threw a welcome party for their new "big three" at the American Airlines Arena, an event that took on a rock concert atmosphere. During the gathering, James predicted a dynasty for the Heat and alluded to multiple championships. Outside of Miami, the spectacle was not well-received, furthering the negative public perception of James.
Throughout the 2010–11 season, James and the Heat were treated as villains by the media and opposing fanbases. To begin the year, they struggled to adjust to their new circumstances, going only 9–8 after 17 games. On December 2, James faced the Cavaliers in Cleveland for the first time since departing as a free agent. He scored 38 points and led Miami to a win while being booed every time he touched the ball. The Heat eventually turned their season around and finished as the East's second seed, with James averaging 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7 assists per game on 51 percent shooting.
In the conference semifinals, James found himself matched up with the Celtics for the second consecutive year. In Game 5, he scored Miami's last ten points to help seal a series-clinching win. After the final buzzer, he famously knelt on the court in an emotional moment, later telling reporters that it was an extremely personal victory for him and the team. The Heat eventually advanced to the Finals, where they were defeated by the Dallas Mavericks in six games. James received the brunt of the criticism for the loss, averaging only three points in fourth quarters in the series. His Finals scoring average of 17.8 points per game signified an 8.9-point drop from the regular season, the largest point drop-off in league history.
Back-to-back championships (2011–2013)
James was humbled by the Heat's loss to the Mavericks. It inspired him to leave behind the villain role that he had been embracing, which helped him regain a sense of joy on the court. He also decided that his post game needed improvement, so he worked with Hakeem Olajuwon during the offseason. James's expanded skill set eventually fueled what Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry called "one of the greatest and most important transformations in recent sports history". Behind James's more post-oriented play, Miami matched their best start to a season in franchise history, and at the conclusion of the lockout-shortened 2011–12 season, he was named MVP for the third time, finishing with averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals per game on 53 percent shooting.
In the second round of the playoffs, Miami temporarily lost Chris Bosh to an abdominal injury and found themselves trailing the Indiana Pacers 3–2. James responded with a 40-point, 18-rebound, and 9-assist outing in Game 4 to help even the series. Miami eventually defeated the Pacers in six games. Facing elimination in Game 6 of the Conference Finals against the Celtics, James scored 45 points to lead the Heat to victory in what The New York Times called a "career-defining performance". Miami won Game 7 to advance to the Finals, earning them a matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder and James's budding rival, Kevin Durant. Late in Game 4 of the series, James hit a three-pointer to give the Heat a lead, helping them win the game despite missing time with leg cramps. In Game 5, he registered a triple-double as Miami defeated Oklahoma City for their second-ever championship and James's first championship. James was unanimously voted the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player with averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. His full postseason run, in which he averaged 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game, was later ranked the second best in modern NBA history by ESPN.
In February of the 2012–13 season, James's performance was described by Sports Illustrated as a "month for the ages", averaging 29.7 points and 7.8 assists per game while setting multiple shooting efficiency records. During this period, the Heat began a 27-game winning streak, the third longest in NBA history. Behind his play, Miami finished the year with a franchise and league best 66–16 record, and James was named MVP for the fourth time, falling just one vote shy of becoming the first player in NBA history to win the award unanimously. His final season averages were 26.8 points, 8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game on 56.5 percent shooting.
In Game 1 of the Conference Finals, James scored a buzzer-beating layup to give Miami a one-point victory against the Pacers. Throughout the series, his supporting cast struggled significantly, and his added scoring load prompted him to compare his responsibilities to those of his "Cleveland days". Despite these struggles, the Heat advanced to the Finals for a meeting with the Spurs, signifying a rematch for James from his first Finals six years earlier. At the beginning of the series, he was criticized for his lack of aggressiveness and poor shot selection as Miami fell behind 2–3. In Game 6, he recorded his second triple-double of the series, including 16 fourth quarter points, to lead the Heat to a comeback victory. In Game 7, he tied the Finals record for most points scored in a Game 7 victory, leading Miami over San Antonio with 37 points. He was named Finals MVP for the second straight season, averaging 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2.3 steals per game for the championship round.
Fourth consecutive Finals (2013–2014)
On March 3 of the 2013–14 season, James scored a career-high and franchise-record 61 points in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats. Throughout the year, he was one of the few staples for a Heat roster that used 20 different starting lineups due to injuries, finishing with averages of 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game on 56.7 percent shooting. In the second round of the playoffs, he tied a career postseason-high by scoring 49 points in Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets. In the next round, Miami defeated the Pacers to earn their fourth consecutive Finals berth, becoming one of only four teams in NBA history to do so. In Game 1 of the Finals, James missed most of the fourth quarter because of leg cramps, helping the Spurs take an early series lead. In Game 2, he led the Heat to a series-tying victory with 35 points on a 64 percent shooting rate. San Antonio eventually eliminated the Heat in five games, ending Miami's quest for a three-peat. For the Finals, James averaged 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game.
Return to the Cavaliers (2014–present)
2014 free agency
On June 25, 2014, James opted out of his contract with the Heat and officially became an unrestricted free agent on July 1. On July 11, he revealed via a first-person essay in Sports Illustrated that he intended to return to the Cavaliers. In contrast to The Decision, his announcement to return to Cleveland was well received. On July 12, he officially signed with the team, who had compiled a league-worst 97–215 record in the four seasons following his departure. A month after James's signing, the Cavaliers acquired Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves, forming a new star trio along with Kyrie Irving.
Ending the 52-year Cleveland sports curse (2014–2016)
In January of the 2014–15 season, James missed two weeks due to left knee and lower back strains, the longest stretch of missed games in his career. In total, he played a career-low 69 games and his final averages were 25.3 points, 6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. In the second round of the playoffs, he hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer to give Cleveland a 2–2 series tie with the Bulls. In the Conference Finals, the Cavaliers defeated the Hawks to advance to the Finals, making James the first player since the 1960s to play in five consecutive Finals. For most of the Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Irving and Love were sidelined due to injury, giving James more offensive responsibilities. Behind his leadership, the Cavaliers opened the series with a 2–1 lead before being eliminated in six games. Despite the loss, he received serious consideration for the Finals MVP Award, averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game for the championship round.
During the 2015–16 season, James was criticized for his role in several off-court controversies, including the midseason firing of Cavaliers' head coach David Blatt. Despite these distractions, Cleveland finished the year with 57 wins and the best record in the East. James's final averages were 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game on 52 percent shooting. In the playoffs, the Cavaliers advanced comfortably to the Finals, losing only two games en route to a rematch with the Warriors, who were coming off a record-setting 73 win season. To begin the series, Cleveland fell behind 3–1, including two blowout losses. James responded by registering back-to-back 41 point games in Games 5 and 6, leading the Cavaliers to two consecutive wins to stave off elimination. In Game 7, he posted a triple-double and made a number of key plays, including a memorable chase-down block on Andre Iguodala in the final two minutes, as Cleveland emerged victorious, winning the city's first professional sports title in 52 years and becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3–1 series deficit in the Finals. James became just the third player to record a triple-double in an NBA Finals Game 7, and behind series averages of 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.3 blocks, and 2.6 steals per game, he also became the first player in league history to lead both teams in all five statistical categories for a playoff round, culminating in a unanimous Finals MVP selection.
The 2016–17 season was marred by injuries and unexpected losses for the Cavaliers; James later described it as one of the "strangest" years of his career. Following a January defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans, he publicly criticized Cleveland's front office for constructing a team that he felt was too "top heavy", for which he received criticism. The Cavaliers finished the season as the East's second seed, with James averaging 26.4 points and career highs in rebounds (8.6), assists (8.7), and turnovers (4.1) per game. In Game 3 of the first round of the postseason, he registered 41 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists against the Pacers, leading Cleveland to a comeback victory after trailing by 25 points at halftime, representing the largest halftime deficit overcome in NBA playoff history. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics, James scored 35 points and surpassed Michael Jordan as the league's all-time postseason scoring leader. The Cavaliers won the game and the series, advancing to their third consecutive Finals against the Warriors.
LeBron James is setting an example and sending a powerful message we should all pay attention to: after you've made it, don't just give back, go back. Whether you're a basketball fan or not, this is an important lesson to take away from LeBron's decision to leave the Miami Heat and return his talents to Northeast Ohio and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In making his return to the place of his birth and the birth of his career, LeBron reveals that he's not simply concerned with winning championships but that he's also a family man, a leader in his community, and a positive example for millions of youth and adults.
Though much of the media and many people missed it before, LeBron was already a solid role model when he went to Miami four years ago. The failure to realize this after he left Cleveland in 2010 shows a collective misunderstanding of young African American men in the United States, which continues today.
The Decision (2014): "I'm Coming Home"
In his recent Sports Illustrated article done with Lee Jenkins, LeBron says:
I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I'm from. ... Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
While the decision in 2014 was certainly handled in a more mature manner than The Decision in 2010, LeBron does not need to be lauded for his supposedly newfound humility. We need to get rid of this idea that African American men, among others, need to constantly show deference to avoid vilification. This idea is deeply connected to the expectations held of African Americans both in slavery and the Jim Crow South.
What should be important is that LeBron has always been a giving and respectful person. The maturity he has shown with the decision in 2014 is that he better understands the media and is mastering the adage his former high school coach taught: "Use basketball. Don't let it use you."
Sports analysts will dissect all aspects of LeBron's second foray into free agency and his return to the Cavs for some time to come, but these discussions should expand beyond sports talk and delve into the social issues that surround LeBron's return home to Northeast Ohio.
"Just a kid from Akron, Ohio"
LeBron James grew up in the heart of the Rust Belt in Northeast Ohio, a region that has seen steady economic decline over the past several decades. Since the 1970s companies have routinely closed down factories in Ohio and surrounding states that were once at the center of U.S. industry. High unemployment in the area has increasingly led to poverty, crime and a slew of the other social ills that touch the lives of the area's residents.
LeBron intimately understands U.S. deindustrialization and its effects because he grew up dealing with them firsthand in his hometown of Akron, Ohio (he actually considers himself to be from Akron, which is Cleveland's neighbor 40 miles to the south). Beginning his professional career for the Cleveland Cavaliers was the closest thing to home for LeBron. He brought hope of championship success to a city that currently has the longest drought of any other having three-professional sport teams, as they haven't won a ring in 50 years.
After seven years in Cleveland, he ventured into free agency for the first time. Amidst great anticipation LeBron went along with a proposed plan to reveal his choice to join the Miami Heat exclusively on ESPN. The Decision (2010) television special was poorly organized from a PR perspective, and even by LeBron's own admission, he could have handled the announcement to leave Cleveland better.
Though LeBron is by no means perfect, his mistakes and shortcomings hardly seem worth mentioning next to the outright blunders of other athletes. Many people forget that The Decision (2010) raised several million dollars for charity, including $2.5 million for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. One wonders how much people were really upset about LeBron leaving Cleveland or irritated by a powerful African American man so boldly exerting his (free) agency. Certainly, LeBron wondered the same.
In comparison, U.S. corporate leaders are financially rewarded and sometimes applauded for making "sound business decisions" to lay off thousands while downsizing companies or moving factories overseas. These same decisions helped create the economically impoverished environment where LeBron was raised.
Ironically, these conditions helped LeBron cultivate a winner's mentality as he worked hard to succeed in basketball and in life; this is what compelled him to go to Miami four years ago. Growing up under the poverty line also fostered in him the humanitarian qualities that compel him to return to Cleveland now.
Sadly, when he decided to move to Miami to pursue his dream of a championship he was called a betrayer, selfish and narcissistic.
What will he be called now?
Where we're "supposed to be"
In 2010, many in Cleveland vilified LeBron James for leaving, which included journalists cursing him, fans burning his jerseys, and the infamous comic sans letter by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Four years later, LeBron found a way to forgive all of this by looking outside of himself, asking: "What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react?"
Many people don't realize that LeBron never turned his back on Akron. He routinely returns to donate time and resources to his community. The LeBron James Family Foundation serves as an umbrella for other organizations primarily focused on youth and education in other areas. Also, his I Promise campaign encourages youth to do well in school, be respectful, and make smart choices in life. In return LeBron promises to be the best role model he can be.
Giving back to others should be just as much a part of the American Dream as becoming successful in this country -- something that many of us miss in this age of rugged individualism. When's the last time we visited a low-income area to get involved in the lives of youth? While many of us have family roots touching these places and we might donate money to charities that work in these areas, most of us rarely go back to give of our time. LeBron James does.
Certainly, LeBron is not the only athlete giving back. Kevin Durant, who LeBron could have easily shared MVP honors with this past 2013-2014 season, is doing important work as well with his foundation. Durant's MVP acceptance speech also shows that he and LeBron share similar perspectives. "Basketball is just a platform in order for me to inspire people," said Durant. Twice in the speech Durant stated that he "wasn't supposed to be here."
These words mirror those of LeBron after winning his second championship in 2013. As celebratory confetti fell in Miami's stadium in the minutes after the final game, LeBron confidently explained on national TV that he wasn't concerned about his critics: "I'm LeBron James from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I'm not even supposed to be here."
African American men know exactly where they're "supposed to be" -- caught up in the so-called justice system (i.e. prison). This is simply one of the realities for many young men of color growing up in single-mother households on the terribly low-income side of the wealth divide.
It's no coincidence that James and Durant have such outstanding character: they were shaped by young, single mothers who struggled to provide their children with food, clothing, housing and security. The top two basketball players in the world today (sorry Kobe) have both risen out of poverty, which has motivated them to address social and economic inequality in their work off the court.
James, Durant, and others recognize that these issues continue to affect millions of U.S. families as they donate their money and time to various forms of community building. This is why Durant and James are not simply philanthropists, but also humanitarians.
If LeBron James is unable to help deliver a championship to Cleveland some may call him a failure or a fool for returning. If he does bring a ring to Northeast Ohio, LeBron will become legend.
Either way, we are watching one of the great U.S. stories in our lifetime unfold. Regardless of the outcome and how others spin LeBron's return to Northeast Ohio, the story is already a success, not because of what he has done or will do on the court, but because of who he is off of it.
Each time LeBron returns to Akron and Northeast Ohio he brings pride and self-respect to those who consider him their son. We can bring similar pride by following LeBron's example: returning to and contributing to our own communities, wherever they may be.
Follow A. B. Wilkinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrABWilkinson