Bigger Than Basketball
November 8, 2016
Americans today possess a skewed sense of honor – the term has spread so thin that its very conception is shot with holes. In a nation where mere participation is deemed worthy of laurels,we are not sure who is worthy of emulation. But America is a nation of winners, as General Patton once told us. As LeBron James entered the NBA, Cleveland loved him not only because he was our winning ticket. He was the child of northeast Ohio and our prince that would soon become king. But one who holds the hearts of so many shoulders a sizable responsibility.It is no fluke that ESPN stopped referring to LeBron as “King James” shortly after he left Cleveland – he traded Cleveland’s love for a trophy, but we all have trophies from Little League,so they no longer are a token of honor. Today, the pursuit of honor calls Americans to commit to something beyond momentary glory.The pursuit of honor is a rough road that entails loyalty and sacrifice, as well as a nobility ofsoul peculiar to Americans. In our nation, many lose sight of theirtrue ambition asthey desire satisfaction at each instant. Americans, like LeBron, constantly succumb to a pale rendition of what is worthy of praise.
We have lost many ofthe ancient virtuesthe Greeks deemed essential to victory,whether it be in war or the pursuit of happiness.There is no word in our language equivalent to thumos, and this is most telling. When a culture lacks the word for something, it is because they lack the concept of it. Plato equates thumos to the white horse of the soul that drives us towards something we love deeply and truly.The common comparison of LeBron to Michael Jordan is laughable among players who have faced the legend – his thumos cannot be explained, only felt. The fear of shortcoming that pushed LeBron to Miami was harnessed by Michael Jordan and it drove him. Jordan welcomed adversity because it afforded him an opportunity to set himself apart from his competition in pursuit of the honor he so deeply loved. If an opportunity did not possess great hardship, Jordan understood there was no honor to be gained. He not only wanted to best his opponents, but he aimed to assure them of his superiority. He shot free throws while covering his eyes, and he claimed that he would mold his perceived weaknesses and use them to embarrass his opponents.Conquering became a lifestyle for Jordan, and he ultimately leftthe game of basketball because therewas nothing left to be conquered. He understood that only great sacrifice gives birth to true honor.
We Americans have trouble drawing the distinction between acts worthy of honor, and those that are praised. Coaching legend, John Wooden, once said,“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” The Western world today seems to equate integritywith “doing you,” but that is not the whole of it. Nevertheless, Wooden’s advice applies to LeBron’s decision to return to Ohio. Although the cliché is quite fashionable in America,staying true is not necessarily honoring oneself.PerhapsJames’s personal reflection allowed him to recognize the vile nature of the glory that pulled him from his home to Miami, but individualistic reflection does not directly necessitate honor.
We have trouble acting honorably because we fear commitment. In a time where the right to individuality and personal freedom are typically American, true loyalty has vanished. Our consumerist society has made us a nation of shoppers, and consumerism has become a trait of our country. Through a myriad of choices, we are taught that keeping our options open presents uswith greater opportunity for happiness.We are always on the hunt for an upgrade, and loyalty is rendered an impediment. LeBron upgraded through a submission to the fear that his reputation may never equal histalent.Through his ESPNspecial, LeBron negotiated his opportunity to persevere for a promise of expedient recognition and a path of least resistance.LeBron left because he yearned for fulfillment, but, as many Americans do, he underestimated fulfillment itself. The praise worthy of LeBron’s talents can only be harvested through extraordinary feats, but seeing the explosions of recognition our nation ordinarily doles out, he fell into a deception that immediate satisfaction was fulfillment enough.
Americans should not equate commitment with imprisonment; although he became glorified, LeBron found that shirking his commitmentimpeded him from becomingworthy of honor. A loyal man commits with the understanding that he is casting his lot with that cause in perpetuity.Once you are dedicated to a cause, you are committed to acting in a certain way.But loyalty and individuality need not be at odds.Rather than subvert one’s individuality, loyalty can elevate and exalt the true self. Perhaps Wooden’s most fitting advice is, “It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.”After all, the common critique of LeBron’s decision was not that he went to Miami, but it was the way in which he left. LeBron could have vindicated himself in Miami, but he shrunk with this opportunity, evading his promise. He became consumed by the “Big Three” and squandered his athleticism as well as his occasion for leadership.It ultimately isn’t our decisions that destine us for honor, but the constant endeavor to make good of our decisions. Committing to a decision imposes a necessary sacrifice.
We need not fear sacrifice; we need to understand that sacrifice can allow us to serve ourselves as well as others.When we hear the word sacrifice, we often think of the selflessness of doing something for another entirely for their benefit – the soldiersacrificing hislife for his comrades frequently comes to mind – but pure altruism is not enough. The definition of sacrifice is “to forfeit something for something else considered to have a greater value.” (American Heritage Dictionary) Sacrifice does not mean giving up something for nothing, but it means giving up one thing for something else we believe is worth more.
We must understand that not every tradeoff is a good one; LeBron traded his journey for honorin exchange foritsless valuable alternative. His ESPN special drew millions of viewers, and the city of Miami threw a parade in which the “Big Three” stood on stage to be gawked at. The flashing lights that drew LeBron to Miami are common today. Americans are too often distracted by present success, and they quit the pursuit of excellence once temporarily satiated. But once LeBron won his first championship he soon became restive. After the second, he was still unsatisfied. LeBron realized that laurels are empty. True honor is a constant commitment to something true within, but ultimately above the self. Glory, on the other hand, is a commitment to recognition from others. It would take something bigger than basketball to adorn LeBron’s bare laurels. AlthoughLeBron’sreturn is touching, it does not entail elevation, but gives birth to opportunity. LeBron’s initial decisionwas more than a decision – it was a commitment to a new character.In an America where the spotlight extends to all,we are all susceptible to the allure of the spotlight, and we constantly face an opportunity to upgrade. Upon returning to Cleveland, LeBron’s new hashtag became “#striveforgreatness”, and his letter was not just the promise of another championship. LeBron realized that the real trophy touches the soul, not the sport.
As we continue to misinterpret the idea of honor, we misguide ourselves. Our nation is a free one, but with freedom comes great responsibility. Our children choose their role models, and thisis a consortium lacking excellence. Today, our youth need to look to winners, but they need a new conception of winning. Honor must be given to those who have a certain quality of soul. LeBron has recognized that he has an opportunity to lead, and “in more ways than one.” He realizes that it will take something more honorable, and bigger, than basketball to find fulfillment