It was just a Facebook ad for a ring. Contrary to doom and gloom tech naysayers, their algorithm is pretty bad. I very rarely even pay attention to Facebook ads. But this fitness monitoring ring had the endorsement of the NBA. That little familiar logo in combination with the indicator that it had hundreds of comments caught my eye. It was mainly Republicans expressing their hatred of the athletes that took a position against racism. I made the mistake of commenting and instantly received a lot of hate and ridicule. As a seasoned social media professional, for the good of my mental health, I just left it there and forgot about it.
This morning I woke at 4am. I had gone to bed early, I don’t need much sleep anymore. And…LeBron James. Normally I would roll over and sleep some more but I started to watch the game. A lot of people find the first half of a basketball match boring since any result can be overturned at the end. They don’t know LBJ. He was probing the court like Curiosity, the Mars rover from NASA. The man is the Marco Polo of exploration, he tries every opponent, every combination of moves with his team mates. He has a mind map of every individual’s playing styles, strengths, weaknesses, mental states and a plan about how to help them develop in the direction he needs them to. At half time I didn’t even care about the score. Almost everyone had played well. And they didn’t even know that LeBron was the one pulling the strings.
Most people are focused on short term results. Multinational behemoths suffer from this, quarter to quarter, keeping investors happy can ruin a company. It is pretty similar with elite athletes, millions of haters ready to demolish you at every turn. This is a sport which pioneered detailed data gathering, it was way ahead of the curve in terms of using all available information to improve. And LeBron is the Google of it all. He processes it and he uses it for good. Google may have dropped the slogan “do no evil” but LBJ lives by it. The Nuggets started increasing the pressure, chipping at the Lakers’ lead. LBJ continued to trust his teammates even though they were – as always – wasting many of his great assist passes, or not understanding how they need to move.
And then comes the dreaded finale. Jamal Murray is possibly the all time greatest if you look at his stats during the playoff fourth quarters. The man turns into a monster scoring machine with a phenomenal percentage of his shots going in from anywhere he chooses. He kicked into gear and for those in the know it was obvious that the Nuggets would win.
Except that LBJ was on the court.
It was the gentle, almost loving way that he did it. If only political rivalries were so sweet and tender. He made a slight hand signal to Rajon Rondo to indicate that he would defend against Murray. And that was the end of that. The next 3-4 times the rising star attempted to score he was met with the defensive genius of LBJ. He missed them all. All those basketball experts who had previously understood that the Nuggets would win, instantly knew that they would now lose. One man turned the match around yet most people wouldn’t even notice. Because in an equally gentle way, he then stepped away.
Especially in politics or business we are always asking our leaders to be forceful. We don’t like it when they are uncertain even when – as with the COVID pandemic – the simple fact is that nobody had conclusive evidence on which to act. In basketball it is easy to see how LeBron could just keep making a fool of Jamal Murray. That is what Michael Jordan would do. He would keep at it to make an impressive story for people to tell. About him. To become a legend simply by the fact that he personally did something extreme and impressive.
Not LBJ. He left Caruzo to defend even if it cost them a couple of buckets. He continued to pass to others even though they missed a lot. He quietly sneaked off court before the end even to not make a big fuss about the win, to not make it about him, to go and talk to Anthony Davis who had struggled on many fronts. They started to walk towards the locker room completely and obviously exhausted but a journalist chased them. It is the rule that the top scorer of the winning team has to speak on camera right after the game. Davis couldn’t handle it, LeBron dragged himself out and put his after match towel around his neck.
It is usually four questions. The last one is sometimes not about the game. Tonight it was about Breonna. That question is something that LeBron has earnt. He is the unofficial spokesperson for millions of Americans because he has matched athletic skill with political bravery. Michael Jordan may or may not have said that “Republicans buy sneakers too” to justify his lack of political action, but LeBron forcefully accepts the opposite role. If all those haters in the fitness ring cost him not getting as many championship rings as Jordan so be it. More so even than the great Mohamed Ali he is a symbol of an athlete using his position to change the world.
And I cried.
It was past 6am in Greece, I only had a short nap to take before waking the kids and all that, but here I was crying for what a tall black bearded and slightly balding man said about Breonna Taylor. In a highly polarized country getting ready to vote, what could he possibly say to millions of people like me around the world? After all hundreds of communication specialists are dissecting the same topics for presidential candidates and covering every possible angle, every slogan, every way to look at the problem and influence people, he had me, the interviewer and people around the world feeling his pain.
It is not the championship ring that LeBron James is lacking. He is President material. If you are in any way involved in leading teams you would do well to study him on and off the court. While everyone talks the talk about uniting the country, leading their companies, or teaching this and that, he shows us how.