The NBA’s 2015 Finals ended last night. The younger, deeper, and talented Golden State Warriors won the Finals Series in six games. The usual post-mortems have emerged, but there was one piece which hit a nerve with me. Chris Chase’s piece in USA Today, “LeBron James’ Legacy is Quickly Fading with each NBA Finals Loss,” set me aflame.
Add to this insult-to-injury, listening to some pseudo-sports talking head on the radio referred to LeBron as a “polarizing” figure. Really!
So now, after arguably the best basketball player on the planet suffered another loss in the NBA Finals putting his record in that series to 2-4, Chase further defines what he means by “legacy”: “There’s no nuance involved in questions about legacy. It’s about numbers, pure and simple.” Wow! This guy, Chase, really knows how to frame his argument – he not only makes assertions which are, at best, irritating and, at worst, inflammatory, he rests his entire argument on them.
Chase ends his vitriolic diatribe with, “LeBron’s narrative is far from over. But no matter how Herculean his effort in these playoffs were, the loss is all anyone will remember. And those are building up for LeBron James, the greatest player in the world whose résumé is getting thinner by the year.”
Because I believe that the term “legacy” in regards to sport and sport figures far exceeds the sophomoric definition Chase spewed up (see paragraph #2 above), I took it upon myself to do a bit of research on this purported sports “writer”. What I found is that this hack is more than a muckraker – when he cannot find any “muck” he creates it! He was fired from Yahoo! Sports and somehow landed at USA Today. I do hope he is paid on a “per word” basis because if he is on salary, he’s stealing money from USA Today!
Please forgive the digression. It’s just that this guy, Chase, gives me a rash. And I cannot for the life of me figure out how noted and highly respected sports writer, Christine Brennan, former Sports Editor for the Associated Press and recipient of the United States Sports Academy’s 2001 Ronald Reagan Media Award, could even tolerate being in the same building with Chase. But that is another road not really worth taking.
All this brings me to the point: A sports legacy goes far beyond the numbers in its effects on our society, particularly our youth. In fact, if legacy were only about the numbers, then former Miami Dolphin’s QB Dan Marino would be a constellation in the pantheon of NFL quarterbacks. You see, Marino had the numbers for years – he just never won a Super Bowl!
In its purest form, and even in its roughest form, sport represents the ideals society holds dearest. The Greeks celebrated human achievement in sport competition to honor its gods on Mount Olympus; hence, sport really began as a religious festival. Wouldn’t the atheists love to try to rest an argument against that!
The “legacy”, then, must encompass all of that in its consideration and in its definition.
For me, it clearly does – and I have reiterated that fact with all five of my sons, the youngest of which are 14 and 11 years old respectively. When one player can suffer the shots LeBron has taken at the hands of writers like Chase and still muster the courage to push himself and his talent-challenged team of “role” players all the way to the NBA Championship Game THAT spells “legacy”.
LeBron James, from my perspective, is not only the greatest basketball player on the planet, he is the embodiment of all I want my sons to become – a devoted father, a faithful husband, a dedicated citizen, and the hardest working player in his sport. If my sons can emulate those qualities using LeBron as a model, I will die a very happy soul.
In fact, when one reflects on it all, were it not for LeBron the Cavaliers would not have even made the playoffs. Losing two all-Star players to injury, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, after having lost center Anderson Varejao, would have sealed the doom for any other team. And because of LeBron, that just would not happen at all!
Not only did LeBron push himself, he lead the others on that cast to push themselves farther than they thought they could go – and in the process he helped create a folk hero out of an unassuming Australian, Matthew Dellavedova. It was LeBron’s actions and presence which gave all of them the single quality all leaders must possess, display and exude – hope.
If sport does nothing else, it must give us at least an opportunity for hope on individual and collective echelons.
When I reflect on LeBron’s history, his personal composition, his demeanor, his comportment and his overall decorum, I am heartened that my sons will have a template on which to build their own individual characters. And in a world so bent on bringing down those whom we have at one time exalted, I am comforted in the knowledge that there are men like LeBron James who like Don Quixote show us that even though the windmills may not fall, it is still worth battling them.
And, I harken to Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”, and reflect on LeBron James in the following selected verses:
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”…
…If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!”
I think ole Rudyard must have had the kid from the streets of Akron, Ohio, who became the World’s greatest basketball player in mind when he set the parameters for being “a Man”.
So, Chase, perhaps when you wake up tomorrow, you will be relieved of the brain flatulence which prevents you from knowing what “sport legacy” means, and re-think LeBron James’ legacy.
Dr. Arthur Ogden is Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.