What LeBron James and the Evolution of the NBA Has Shown Me About a Huge Issue Plaguing Our Society

lebron-james-cryingBefore I get started, this isn’t meant at all to be any kind of personal attack on LeBron James.  The guy is an absolute beast of an athlete and is easily one of the best professional basketball players who’s ever lived.  I don’t know anything about him personally but by all accounts he’s a great guy, a really good person and a fantastic ambassador for the game.

Well, mostly a great ambassador.

See, that’s where this all kind of starts.  First a little background on where I’m going with this.

For a while now I’ve warned that as a society we’re becoming entirely too narcissistic.  We’re coddling our youth too much and parents basically blame anyone and everyone but them or their child for anything negative that happens to their children.

I’ve heard countless stories from numerous teachers of the horror stories they’ve dealt with when it comes to failing students, or students that misbehave, and the insane parents who come in blaming the school, the teacher or anyone else but themselves for the issues that are going on.

Then we have the sports where everyone gets a ribbon or a trophy.  Heck, some of them don’t even keep score.  There are no winners or losers, kids – you’re all winners for just trying your best!

Because that’s what we tell kids.  The results don’t matter, as long as you do your best – that’s all that counts.

Well, that’s not how the world works and I don’t think it makes much sense to teach our children that life is full of sunshine and rainbows.  Where all that matters is if you do your best.  Never allowing them to fail or lose. Always shielding them from as much adversity as possible.

It’s a lie and it’s hurting our youth and our society.

We’re in a society where people have been conditioned that “everyone is special.”  Where people post pictures of their food or tag themselves in restaurants like Chili’s because apparently everyone is supposed to care.  Or the countless “selfies” that flood every kind of online photo album available on social media.  Because, you know, it’s important that we see that selfie of you taken at Starbucks this morning.

We’re becoming a society of people who lack the ability to handle adversity, think everything we do is special and believe that we should be the focal point of – well, nearly everything.

Now this might sound weird for a liberal to say (because it sounds very conservative) but we do really have a society where many people want the easiest path to success.  And no, I don’t mean people who need welfare or other government programs to get by.  You see this desire for the “easy path” in every socioeconomic level of our society.

Which is what brings me back to LeBron James.  I, like many other basketball fans, didn’t like the way he exited Cleveland.  Not that he didn’t have the right to leave (he did) but how he left was a pure diva-like “let me get the spotlight” situation that I just had no respect for.

Seriously, it was an over hour-long TV program dedicated to one man and where he would choose to sign his next multimillion dollar contract.  Like I said, a narcissistic society.  You don’t agree to do something like that unless you really want the attention.  And don’t give me the whole, “Well he raised money for charity” nonsense.  He could have just cut them a check for what he raised.  He wanted the attention.

Not only that, he chose to team up with 2 other superstars to build a “super team” of sorts.  You know – the easier path to a championship.

See, this is why he’ll never be Michael Jordan.  Well, for several reasons.  During Jordan’s time, players battled against one another.  You wouldn’t see Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson do something like “The Decision.”   Each man won championships with the teams that drafted them. If they played with great players, either those players came to their team or they were just lucky enough to be drafted by teams with other greats.  These guys wanted to beat one another.  You know the old adage of being the best by beating the best.

I don’t see how someone can say LeBron’s championship is as deserved as someone who actually helped build something themselves.  I mean, was there ever any doubt that in the weakest conference in the NBA (the East) that after adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh (along with Dwayne Wade) the Heat were going to win several titles?

It wasn’t a question of if, but when – and how many.

Sure, LeBron’s got his 2 (and probably will get more) but he took the easy path there.  He didn’t stick it out and build something with the team that drafted him (like nearly every other superstar before him had done).  No.  Instead he got together with a few friends to plan a future “super team” to make winning championships easier.

But it’s not just him.  You’ve seen other players in the NBA try this same tactic, though none have really put together “3 superstars.”  It’s been more like 1, maybe 2 and a half of another.

I guess some could argue the Boston Celtics did this too.  But it’s a little different.  They merged two aging stars, past their primes, in with their superstar to win their championship.  Again, it wasn’t three superstars in their prime coming together in hopes of making it easier to win a championship.

It’s stuff like this which is why I will always respect Greg Popovich more than Phil Jackson.  Greg Popovich and the Spurs won their championships with 3 stars who were all drafted by the franchise.  Popovich has taken guys you would have never heard of and made them quality NBA starters.  Phil Jackson went from Jordan to Kobe and Shaq then back to Kobe when he felt that he had the talent to win.  Phil Jackson never once drafted and built a championship team.  He inherited them.

But while nobody can deny LeBron’s greatness, or the fact that he’s now a two-time champion, I just don’t respect him on the same level as I do players who took the harder path to their ultimate success.

Would he have 2 NBA championships right now had he stayed in Cleveland?  I doubt it.

Now I’m not saying LeBron James hasn’t put in a ridiculous amount of work to get to where he is.  I’m not even saying in his personal life he hasn’t had to overcome personal adversities.  I’m just saying as far as the overall choices he made about his NBA career, it’s pretty clear to anyone that knows anything about the sport – he deliberately chose the easier path to a championship.  I’m not saying that he didn’t have the right to do that, I’m just saying it was clear that’s what he chose to do.

But this kind of behavior isn’t just in this instance.   I think it’s a systemic problem that began around LeBron’s generation.  His is one of the first generations that’s from the “don’t keep score, everyone gets a trophy, me-first, everyone’s a winner, take the easiest road to success” period in our society.

And for some that works, but for most it doesn’t.

I see it all the time.  Kids who have absolutely no respect for adults.  Parents who don’t want to “parent,” they just want their children shielded from everything.  Kids out to dinner with their families completely engulfed in their tablets or phones, not even communicating with their family.

Hell, I never thought talking on the phone would be an outdated form of communication.  If it isn’t the instant gratification of a text message, Facebook post or something along those lines – it’s just too time consuming for someone who really needs to be planning which selfie they’re going to take next.

We seem to have become a “detached society.”  Sure, we’re always plugged in, but we’re never in that moment.  Our minds are always detached off somewhere else.  We’re concerned with who said what on Twitter or Facebook or what pictures were posted on Instagram.  I’ve actually heard people get depressed because their Facebook post didn’t get enough “Likes.”

Seriously?  What the hell is going on?

Honestly, I don’t know how we can fix it or if it can even be fixed.  But it does genuinely worry me.

I mean, if it’s this bad now, what’s it going to be like in 20-30 years?

And again, I’m not meaning to attack LeBron James for his decision.  He was within his rights to do exactly what he did and I’m sure he’s a great person.  Honestly, when I watch the guy play I’m in awe.  I really never thought I’d see someone who could be an NFL linebacker flying around an NBA court like he does.  All I’m simply saying is the choices he made in his NBA career seem to reflect many of the issues I see within our society.

But I’m curious what you all think.  I didn’t write this as a definitive “I have the answers” narrative.  It’s more a piece meant to get people talking and start a debate.

So, tell me, what do you think?

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.

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  • Francois Bergeron

    It’s not how the world works “now”, but hopefully, later on, we’ll lose the jungle law warfare that favors one type of person over another. Why should I be more fortunate than another if I was born with entrepreneurial qualities or a talent to put balls in a hoop? Or worse, simply born with money. It’s all luck folks. I’m saying give it all away, but there is far too much disparity between the lucky and the luckless.

  • BrambleTree

    “But while nobody can deny LeBron’s greatness, or the fact that he’s now a two-time champion, I just don’t respect him on the same level as I do players who took the harder path to their ultimate success.”
    This makes me wonder- is there merit in struggle when one isn’t necessary? If you see an easier way to your goal and you don’t take it, is that character or stupidity? While I didn’t care for the whole decision show and such, it was all a calculated and savvy business move. He made money, which is, after all, the reason one goes into a vocation. And that’s what professional sports are- a job. If any other businessman turned down an obvious opportunity to advance his career, would it be lauded the same way?