LeBron James might or might not be the greatest basketball player of all time. It’s a pointless discussion, for now, because his career isn’t even close to being over.
He’s probably cemented his legacy as one of the greatest players of all time – 3 championships, 3 Finals MVPs, 4 regular season MVPs, and defeating a 73-9 team in the Finals after being down 3-1 while leading everybody in everything and bringing a championship to a city that hasn’t seen one in 52 years will do that.
I have to admit something though. After game 4 – after an odd and frustratingly passive performance from LeBron James, I’d given up on him. I just didn’t think he could do it. LeBron wasn’t playing like the absolute best version of LeBron – which the Cavs needed him to do if they were even going to have a chance – and the next game was at Golden State.
I thought it was over. And I thought it was LeBron’s fault. And I was irrationally angry and upset.
There’s a quote from former NFL coach Bill Parcells that I like:
“You are what you are.”
I thought Game 4 LeBron was LeBron. Passive, not quite willing to do what it takes, a waste of potential. I know – he was already a two-time champion. But two-time champions are supposed to play like two-time champions, aren’t they? And he wasn’t. He was playing like someone less than that.
I don’t need to tell you what happened next. But I will anyway.
Back to back 41-point games, when scoring isn’t even the thing he does best. Three straight wins against the greatest regular season team of all time, a team that hadn’t lost 3 in a row all season. Two wins on the road, in a building where the Warriors went 39 – 2 in the regular season. Leading everybody in everything – points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, which was literally unheard of. His stats in the last three games: 36.3 points per game, 11.7 rebounds per game, 9.7 assists per game, 3.0 blocks per game, and 3.0 steals per game.
Game 5 to 7 LeBron had clearly, well and truly, undeniably vanquished Game 4 LeBron.
Because he had to. Because if winning meant more to him than anything else, including being “himself”, he had to.
It’s like that quote from Henry Sidwick:
“One has to kill a few of one’s natural selves to let the rest grow — a very painful slaughter of innocents.”
And this is what LeBron said after the game, about coming back to Cleveland two years ago, knowing the team had never even been to the playoffs before:
“I told myself, ‘Bron, you gotta be patient’… but I’m not a patient guy.”
He didn’t say he could be patient. Or that he should be patient. Or that he wants to be patient.
He said he had to be patient.
Which meant he had to be something he hadn’t been.
Because his goal – “I set a goal to bring a championship back to the city of Cleveland.” – meant more to him than remaining who he was.
I could learn from that. Maybe I’ll have to learn from that.
Here’s what else we have to learn from LeBron James.
“I gave everything that I had. I put my heart and my blood and my sweat and my tears into this game.”
How often do you do that? When I think about that sentence, I honestly kind of doubt it. Can anyone literally give everything they have to anything? I don’t know. Maybe I doubt that anyone could do it because I doubt that I could do it. But I’ve probably, realistically, only felt this way a few times in my whole life. Even though it’s one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve ever had.
“I think about all the doubters. Even with what I’ve been able to do in my career, I still have the same doubters.”
Really, it’s insane that one of the greatest players ever, a three-time champion, a four-time MVP, has doubters. It’s not logical, it’s emotional. Nobody’s career has been scrutinised like LeBron’s – it started when he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, and it hasn’t stopped since. He has, somehow, against all odds, been even greater than his hype. And people still doubt him. If he still has doubters, then you do too, and you always will.
“During the playoffs, I get off social media. I don’t watch TV. I don’t listen to the radio. Because at the end of the day, the game is won in between these four lines. You can have everybody else talking, everybody else saying what’s going to happen… but the game is won in between these four lines.”
Let everybody else talk. Let them say who’s going to win and who isn’t. Let them gossip about who’s better and who can’t rise to the occasion and who will fail. None of it matters. Not at all. Save your energy for your work.
“I’m my biggest critic.”
If you’re your biggest critic then nobody else can harm you. Your opinion of you means more to you than their opinion of you, so how could they harm you? Their words are just noise – sometimes distracting, but never compelling.
“You practice it every day. Just trust in what you’ve put into the game.”
I worry so much about my writing sometimes. Is it good enough? What if it isn’t? How can I know it’s good enough? When will it be good enough? It’s not good enough. This is shit. Nobody is going to care. And they’ll be right.
It’s exhausting. What’s the point in it? Wouldn’t I be better served by putting my energy into actually writing?
I write every day. Usually for hours. I read every day too. I put a lot of time into it. I put a lot of effort into it. I put a lot of me into it.
I need to get better at trusting myself, and I need to realise that “ego is the enemy” of trusting myself (thanks Ryan Holiday).
“We’ve been through so much adversity these last two years, so I just knew what we were capable of.”
Are you like me, in that you think you can accomplish things without any kind of adversity? I know we all “know” we’ll experience adversity. But do we actually know? Do we actually, with our whole hearts, accept it?
What would happen if we did wholeheartedly accept it? Would there be any downside to that?
Adversity makes us more of who we are because it tests who we are. If we want to get through it, we have to be more. We have to become more. We have to turn adversity to advantage.
Nobody, after they win an NBA championship, says it was easy. Nobody, after writing a book, says it was easy. Nobody, after accomplishing something they desperately wanted to accomplish, says it was easy.
They all talk about how hard it was. How many sacrifices they made. How they wondered whether or not they could actually do this thing that was looking closer and closer to being impossible.
Do you know what else they all say?
They all say it was worth it.
“Cleveland, this is for you.”
We’re back to that cliché of a question, aren’t we.
What’s your why?
It’s a cliché because it’s important.
Is your why big enough to carry you into and through and beyond adversity?
Is it big enough for you to work when you don’t feel like working?
Is it big enough for you to ruthlessly kill the old versions of you that aren’t up to getting the job done?
LeBron James’ why wasn’t about LeBron James.
LeBron James’ why wasn’t even about Cleveland.
LeBron James’ why was Cleveland.
It’s why he came back. It’s why he felt obligated to come back. It’s why he was able to will his team back from a 3-1 deficit against the greatest regular season team in NBA history. It’s why he was able to make history. It’s why he was able to do what he said he was going to do.
It’s why the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite all odds, are the 2016 NBA Champions.