I am not a sports fan – just want to state that up front. Nothing against it, but I don’t follow professional athletics or root for any teams. What does interest me is the way people make decisions, the consequences they face and how they handle obstacles that pop up along the way. In the case of LeBron James, he made two decisions that made people very unhappy – to leave the team that drafted him at the start of his career and to return to it four years later.
LeBron James was born in Akron, Ohio in 1984, was the first player picked in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and went on to become the youngest player to receive the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. He was personally successful in Cleveland, but the team did not win a championship.
Shortly after becoming a free agent, James left Cleveland to join the Miami Heat for the 2010-11 season. The choice appeared to be based upon his career and the goal he had yet to accomplish – winning a championship. “”I didn’t want to make an emotional decision. I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James and what would make him happy,” James said. “This is a business and I had seven great years in Cleveland. I hope the fans understand; maybe they won’t.” (https://www.cleveland.com/cavs/index.ssf/2010/07/legone_LeBron_james_confirms_h.html)
Cleveland fans did not understand, and considered James a traitor, burning his jerseys in the streets. And it wasn’t just the fans. Owner Dan Gilbert wrote an open letter calling James “selfish,” “our former hero” and referring to the decision as a “cowardly betrayal.” James continued to excel with the Heat, he became the youngest player to score 20,000 points, contributing to win two NBA championships. James competed in the Olympics twice and has been compared with the best who played the sport of basketball. In a tweet following last night’s win over the Golden State Warriors, Chris Rock wrote,” The greatest of all time.”
Following the acrimony over his departure from Cleveland and the comments of Gilbert, one may have considered it unlikely that he would return to the Cavaliers, but he did for the 2014-15 season. He explained in an essay for Sports Illustrated that he always believed he would finish his career in his home state, but it wasn’t easy, especially for his family: “The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. 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? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?” (https://www.si.com/nba/2014/07/11/LeBron-james-cleveland-cavaliers)
So many decisions in life are weighed down by juries of our peers who want to direct and decide things for us. People go into their family businesses out of obligation, not inspiration, or they follow a path laid out by a parent rather than a preference. We come to know ourselves in our thirties and forties, already living in the decisions made in youth.
Selfishness gets a bad rap sometimes. Dan Gilbert used that word to describe James, who had just spent seven years working hard for his organization. When it comes to a career, try a little selfishness. If you think about it, successful people cultivate self-interest, doggedly focusing on what they want to achieve. Didn’t Gilbert want James to stay in order to live out his own dream of a Cavalier championship?
You can power through unhappiness, live with the status quo, stay put and not make any waves. That’s the default life that will happen if you simply continue down a path you no longer want. There’s a certain comfort in that discomfort. It’s familiar. Or, you can take a hard look at the end game, which is what LeBron did. Yes, they talked trash about him, yes there were hurt feelings, but what would it look like if he powered through that in the direction his heart was telling him to go? We found out last night – victory!
Originally posted on “The Huffington Post” here.