Who was LeBron James?
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.