What LeBron James has really learned

Cleveland sports fans let out a collective sigh of relief and whooped it up when LeBron James announced that he was returning to the local basketball team the Cavaliers, four years after he infuriated his adoring fans here with his grandiose departure. This was much bigger news than that the Republican party had picked the city for its 2016 convention. The Plain Dealer celebrated his return in Saturday’s edition with a 20-page supplement full of color photographs documenting his life. This in an era when they have cut back on print issue deliveries (it now delivers just four days a week) and reduced the size of the paper and its reporting staff.

His latest announcement was in the low-key form of an as-told-to essay under his name in Sport Illustrated. Commentators reacted positively to the humble and apologetic tone of the article, saying that he had matured and was no longer the arrogant and spoiled person of yore and had learned his lesson.

But what exactly had he learned? Drew Magary is more cynical and says that what James has learned is what it takes to ingratiate yourself with the fans while disguising the fact that this decision was, just like the one before, all about looking out for his own best interests that just so happened to coincide with what the Cleveland fans wanted.

While narratives change a lot, people tend to remain the same, and I would wager that the only thing about LeBron James that has changed since The Decision back in 2010 is that he now knows precisely what kind of horseshit sports fans and sportswriters want, and how to deliver that horseshit. It should be humble, it should be understated, and it should turn up in tasteful prose in a tasteful magazine. Read that essay in SI and you see LeBron touch on every possible item in the great American psychic lunchpail.

After checking off the list of pandering items that James dutifully hit, Magary summarizes what we can learn from his successful performance.

That’s how easy it is to change a narrative. Stay off the television, pose for a tasteful photograph, write a letter, and play to the fancy of a few influential people who like the idea of the Midwest a whole lot more than they like the reality of it, and you go from selfish to TEBOW in no time. LeBron James wasn’t aware of this game four years ago. He sure as hell is now.

I share Magary’s cynicism. James has been told from an early age that he was the greatest and acted like he believed it. Such an attitude is not changed easily and usually only when the person encounters some major setback or tragedy, neither of which happened here. But none of it will matter to the sports fans here who will forgive and forget his past actions and embrace him to their bosom again as quickly as they turned against him when he proved himself earlier to be a viper. The only thing that will sour the relationship is if he fails to deliver a national championship to the city.


  1. says

    James is going back solely for the paycheques. He has no motivation to win now that he has two titles, and he doesn’t have the supporting cast he did in Miami. The media and public talk about “the big three” in Miami, but those in the locker room knew that the other players (e.g. Battier, Andersen) were a big part of winning those titles.

    It was the no-glory role players who gave Miami’s stars the space to work, and James knows it. He won’t have that support in Cleveland unless they trade for it. His move is strictly mercenary, to make as much as he can before he retires. The difference now is, he knows how to be politic.

  2. says

    It seems kind of stupid to complain about James doing (whatever) for the paychecks, when the entire league is a bunch of hugely-paid professionals who wouldn’t give anyone the time of day if they weren’t getting paid.

    Pro sports is just another way people have of subjugating themselves.

  3. dean says

    He seems to have learned how to work the media to make himself look good. I see no reason to believe his comments about realizing Cleveland being special to him: the simpler idea that he is simply following a paycheck is far more reasonable.

  4. ShowMetheData says

    I reject the automatic cynicism about what he wrote because it was outweighed by what he actually did.

    He could have gotten the exact same dollars if he had gone to NY, Chicago, Houston or any other place with a REAL chance to get a championship ring. He’s given up the chase after Michael Jordan as the greatest -- by ring-count -- basketball player ever. In order to return home, he chose an uncertain future with more struggles than the easy wins.

    A millionaire chose a harder, riskier path.
    So, waaaa. And you want someone to polish your trophy for cynicism for you. Naah, I have enough of my own cynicism especially towards automatic cynicism.

  5. ianeymeaney says

    @5 NY has a chance at winning a championship? HAHAHAHA. Not as long as Dolan is in charge.

    Anyway, I agree with Magary. MeBron has a much better PR team now, which has crafted an elegant letter for him. The money doesn’t matter for him other than as a dick measuring contest. He makes far more from endorsements than he makes on-court. Now he can change his career narrative from being a villain who ditched his hometown team, into becoming the prodigal son who realized the error of his ways. He has his rings, now he can improve the way he is viewed by people looking back 50 years from now.

  6. dean says

    A millionaire chose a harder, riskier path.

    A millionaire, being paid millions of dollars, whether he produces or not, has taken a hard path? Spare me.
    My “cynicism” even makes we toss away the possibility that he wrote the message himself (that and having heard him speak). He has people for that.

  7. jws1 says

    He can’t be going there solely for money; the contract he opted out of would’ve paid more. In addition it should be noted that this contract with the Cavs is only for 2 years and he can opt out after only one. Also, about the supporting cast, now James will have a truly talented point guard to play with for the first time in his career.
    Lastly, I can’t help but hear the John Birch Society when I hear people express disgust that an athlete would dare to look out for their own best interests.

  8. hyphenman says

    Good afternoon Mano,

    Like you I couldn’t care less about professional sport, but I wish LeBron all the best because as a young man rising from humble beginnings he has managed to leverage his talent to win millions of dollars from a corrupt system that regularly diverts much needed funds from those who need the money the most into the pockets of those who already have more money than they know how to spend.

    Cleveland school children don’t have books, materials, or safe, comfortable schools, but we’ve managed to build, and continue to pay millions for, three shrines to losing teams.

    Do all you can to make today a better day,


  9. says

    I’m no LeBron defender, but most of these arguments are bunk. Magary mocked the idea of going to Miami to learn discipline but that is exactly what happened. Pat Riley and the rest of the management there didn’t let LeBron and his crew get away with the same stuff he got away with in Cleveland. There was no more catering to his every whim. This applied to basketball as well. LeBron learned to be more accountable and play a post up game.

    This also wasn’t a cold basketball decision. Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, The Clippers, hell even the Lakers with their history of luring elite players, all could have offered LeBron max salary with a better chance of winning more titles now. Yet he came back to Cleveland and an owner who hated his guts for years ago. It’s obvious he feels some sort of draw to NE Ohio. He has remained charitably involved in the area even after people burned his jersey in the streets.

    Frankly I don’t understand it. I’m from Akron area myself and I have no desire to ever live there again.

    And Mano, don’t you think LeBron suffered enough growing up? He was raised by a single parent in poverty and never knew his dad. Don’t give me this crap about he was guaranteed NBA success and stardom. Nothing is guaranteed when you’re 13 and poor. He now has a family of his own and he works hard at his job. That’s a pretty good outcome considering where he came from.

    And yes, professional athletes do work hard at their job. Sure, they don’t work hard enough to justify millions of dollars, but they didn’t create the system, they just live in it.

    So what if he learned to “work the media.” Last I knew that’s just part of learning to be humble.

    I mean fuck, dude DOESN’T HAVE A FATHER! You could promise me all of LeBron’s riches and a bag of potato chips to give up my father and I wouldn’t take it.

    Shit, the atheist movement will never attract people of color. Rich black man comes back to his hometown? Whatever, just another darkie faking it for the media.

  10. Ollie Nanyes says

    What is with the anti-James sentiment? I know that if the Institute of Advanced Study offered me a position, I’d leave to take it. (no danger of that happening).

  11. MNb says

    The anti-James sentiment is because of his self-importance, which even trickles down to Surinamese newspapers. Not all of them have it. Compare Chauncey Billups or the golden trio of San Antonio.
    You see the same in football (what you Americans call soccer). Cristiano Ronaldo is James’ counterpart and so was David Beckham. Messi is a cool guy though. The only reason I don’t root for him is that he already has enough fans.

  12. ah58 says

    LeBron who? I honestly can’t say that I even know that much about him. Pro sports just hold no appeal for me at all. The only thing interesting is the obscene amount of money people are willing to pay to watch people play games and how invested they become in “their” teams.

  13. dean says

    I don’t believe anyone here wishes LJ ill. The point is that there is no real reason to believe this choice was made because of any revelation in his thought process. He made it for purely financial reasons, and while there is nothing wrong with that it should be recognized as such.
    I do boggle at this:

    So what if he learned to “work the media.” Last I knew that’s just part of learning to be humble.

    That makes no sense. Learning to “work the media” simply means he’s surrounded himself with people who understand how to work the media.

  14. jws1 says

    Dean: he’s making less money with this deal than he could have. It’s not so simple as you might think. Also, what gives people the right to decide for others how big their payday should be?

  15. Jackson says

    [A]ll about looking out for his own best interests

    I know, right? Whenever I make career decisions for myself, the very first question I ask is, “is this good for Cleveland?”

  16. DonDueed says

    ShowMeTheData said:

    He’s given up the chase after Michael Jordan as the greatest – by ring-count – basketball player ever.

    Er, um… Bill Russell?

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