Who was LeBron James?

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

An open let­ter to 24th cen­tury his­to­ri­ans. I’ve left this note for you as a pub­lic ser­vice. Three hun­dred years from now, when you study the things that dom­i­nated Amer­i­can thought in the sum­mer of 2010, I sus­pect one press­ing ques­tion will rise above all oth­ers: Who the heck was LeBron James? I’m here to an­swer that for you but first, let me say how very cool it is (cool was a slang term we used to in­di­cate that a thing was good) to find my­self ad­dress­ing you like this. The idea that you might stum­ble across these words in some ar­chive of the fu­ture, that you might be read­ing this let­ter (or ab­sorb­ing it through your skin or how­ever it is you process text in your era, as­sum­ing you still do) long af­ter I am dead fills me with ques­tions. I won­der: What is the state of health care in 2310? Is in­ter­plan­e­tary travel now rou­tine? Did BP ever get that oil leak fixed? Of course, un­less you’ve in­vented time travel (you haven’t, have you?), there’s no way for you to an­swer my ques­tions. So let me get down to busi­ness and an­swer yours. Who was LeBron James? Some of you prob­a­bly think he was a wizard, a mys­tic or some mi­nor league de­ity. You’d base that con­clu­sion on press re­ports in­di­cat­ing that his de­ci­sion to with­draw him­self from a place called “Cleve­land” left that re­gion stag­ger­ing, dev­as­tated, bereft of its civic will to live and ripe for plun­der­ing by rov­ing bands of “Lak­ers,” “Celtics” and “Bulls.” Well, he wasn’t some mi­nor god.

Some of you prob­a­bly think he was a great gen­eral who be­trayed his own troops in bat­tle. You’d base that con­clu­sion on a let­ter a man named Dan Gil­bert posted on the web­site (do you still have web­sites?) of an or­ga­ni­za­tion he owned called the “Cleve­land Cava­liers.” In it, he ac­cused this LeBron James of cow­ardice, dis­loy­alty, heart­less­ness, self­ish­ness, cal­lous- ness and traitorous­ness — and even put a curse on him. So I can un­der­stand how you’d fig­ure LeBron James was a mil­i­tary leader, but he wasn’t that, ei­ther.

Some of you prob­a­bly think he was a hu­man rights icon who took some bold stand for free­dom. You’d base that con­clu­sion on a state­ment from a man named Jesse Jack­son Sr., who ac­cused Gil­bert of treat­ing James like “a run­away slave.” Of course, Gil­bert was said to be will­ing to pay James $125 mil­lion over six years for his ser­vices; I don’t know how it is in your era, but that was a lot of money back in 2010 — way more than one makes as a slave. So, no, LeBron James wasn’t a hu­man rights icon.

Some of you have no idea who he was, but from the way we in this era couldn’t stop talk­ing about him, from all the anger, ar­gu­ment and in­vec­tive his name stirred, you be­lieve he must have been a fig­ure of trans­for­ma­tional im­por­tance in world his­tory. He wasn’t.

And yes, I’ll keep my prom­ise to an­swer your ques­tion, but I have to say, the an­swer is em­bar­rass­ing. It speaks to the propen­sity we had in my era for ag­gran­diz­ing the triv­ial. And to our ten­dency to lose all per­spec­tive. And to our oc­ca­sional in­abil­ity to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween that which di­verts or amuses us and that which de­fines our en­tire self worth.

So who was LeBron James? He was a bas­ket­ball player. In the sum­mer of 2010, he an­nounced his de­ci­sion to leave a team that played in “Cleve­land” to join an­other in a city called “Mi­ami.” He did it on a tele­vi­sion spe­cial (do you still have TV?) some re­garded as a mon­u­ment to his ego and ex­ag­ger­ated sense of his own im­por­tance. So there you have it. LeBron James was a guy who played bas­ket­ball.

To an­tic­i­pate your next ques­tion: Bas­ket­ball was a game in­vented by a man named James Nai­smith back in 1891. We used to en­joy watch­ing and play­ing it. It was fun. Cleve­land res­i­dent Chris Capell took pic­tures through the win­dow of a park­ing garage as work­ers re­moved the gi­ant ban­ner of for­mer Cleve­land Cava­liers bas­ket­ball star LeBron James. James an­nounced in a TV spe­cial that he would be join­ing the Mi­ami Heat.

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