Let me be frank. This whole LeBron saga has made me dislike the NBA even more than I already did. It highlighted everything I find distasteful. Drama. Self-Aggrandizing. Empty suits with even emptier heads. It was a grand turn-off.
However, to simply write off this whole story would be short-sighted. The more I thought about the whole story and how it’s being reported, I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that we have some things to learn from this whole sordid tale.
In a culture that celebrates and practices radical individualism, for one of the greatest talents in basketball to choose to take less money in order to play on a team where he will not be the only great player is quite the shocker. In fact, it’s more than a shocker. LeBron James has just profaned the very culture that lifted him to such stratospheric heights. For seven year, LeBron was King. Literally. But the King has stepped off his throne. And he’s done it in a way that the majority of culture does not understand. Why would someone give up $30 million dollars? Why would someone give up being the King? Because James realized something. While an individual becomes a super-star; teams are what win championships.
What a statement! What a timely message for our culture to hear. James’ rejection of individualism challenges the very core of what our culture holds so dear; thus the visceral reactions from every corner of the culture (except for Miami…they are as pleased a peach). I think it’s a timely message for the church to hear as well. Too often, our church buildings are filled with a bunch of individuals. The concept of church as community is missing in most places in America. Our culture has infected our thinking. Let’s not waste this opportunity to examine ourselves. Our reaction to this story may have something to tell us about our thinking.
The method is the message. Or another way to say it is, what you say is just as important as how you say it. Whoever Lebron’s PR person is should be fired. I have never in my life seen an athlete go from beloved to hated in such a short period of time (Tiger Woods may be the exception). Have you read the open letter from Cav’s owner Dan Gilbert? Wow. I think someone is bitter (From now on, I will refer to Dan Gilbert as Mara Gilbert, but I digress). People in Cleveland were burning LeBron jerseys. They were crying in sports bars. Outside of Cleveland, people like me were sick of the hype. Part of that is not LeBron’s fault. He can’t help ESPN hypes his decision. But the actions by him and his team only increased the speculation and drama. The hour long special on ESPN to announce his decision about made me want to puke. It wreaked of arrogance and self-aggrandizing. I did not watch it. Refused to do so. Besides, the Reds were playing and baseball is better anyways…again I digress. I can guarantee LeBron will not be approached to write a book about winning friends and influencing people. The only friends LeBron has now are in South Beach.
How does that apply to us followers of Jesus? Well, we carry with us a message that is far more offensive that what LeBron did to the city of Cleveland. While LeBron did profane an aspect of culture, the Gospel we carry profanes it even further. We have a message that a lot of people will reject, will hate. Jesus told us so. So shouldn’t we be ever so careful that the only way we offend people is with the gospel? If we are offending them with our political opinions or sports opinions or a self-righteous attitude or anything else, we have shut them off from the one offensive message they need to hear. If I allow a political opinion to separate me from others on the other side who haven’t heard the gospel, then I’ve allowed a false distinction to dictate who I engage with the gospel. Even if I tried to engage them, they will automatically have a wall built up to me, because I’ve elevated this political opinion. The Apostle Paul was very aware of this fact. In I Corinthians 9:22, Paul writes, “…I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” The offense of the cross is a big enough hurdle for people to overcome. They shouldn’t have to overcome our opinions or poor attitudes as well to get to Jesus.
Is legacy more important than winning? Can they be separated? I guess I’m asking if one needs to win to be great. LeBron seems to think so. Here’s where he fits right in with our culture. Do you remember the No Fear shirts? Do you remember the slogan “He who dies with the most toys wins”? This is exactly why LeBron chose team over individual. He spent 7 years in Cleveland and has no rings. He needs rings. Rings mean he’s accomplished something. Championships justify him. So perhaps Lebron’s choice of team over individual is not as pure as we thought. The knife wound in the back of the city of Cleveland is evidence of that. When we think that winning is the path to greatness, people get hurt. And it’s usually those who have invested the most in us.
That’s why in the Kingdom, the path to greatness is the path to losing. Jesus said that the first shall be last. Jesus said that if you would be the greatest, you must be the servant of all. So in the Kingdom, in the one place that matters, championships mean nothing. Rings and bling won’t give you any clout in this Kingdom. But hands weathered in the service of others are priceless. A heart that cries out to true King and longs to do His bidding is what is truly great. You can be the biggest loser in this life and find out your sitting on the right hand of the King himself in the next. And the great thing about living this way, no one gets hurt in your climb to the bottom. Instead, others are lifted up. The legacy of a servant is to be desired more than that of a champion.
If you haven’t read the open letter from Mara Gilbert, go back and read it. Did you catch the religious language? Chosen One. Heaven. Hero. Sounds like LeBron James was more than King in Cleveland. Sounds like he was savior too. And when false saviors are exposed as such, all hell breaks lose. I think all I need to say here is, there is only one King and Savior. His name is Jesus and He is one who sticks closer than a brother. We will never be snatched from His hands. In fact, our names are engraved on His palms. He is preparing a place for His people. And He will return one day and put to further shame these false savior kings. Just like Tiger, I’m glad for another false savior being exposed. I pray that the followers of Jesus in Cleveland will use this opportunity to interject the Gospel into their conversations about LeBron. I pray that followers of Jesus everywhere will use this opportunity to talk about the hope that we have. LeBron points us to Jesus. LeBron is a failed savior and all failed saviors point to Jesus.
We are wretchedly complicated beings. Even in honestly innocent decisions, there lays in the corner of our hearts motivations with wicked intent. I think that’s the biggest thing we could learn from LeBron. We will never be able to live in perfect holiness. We will never be able to satisfy all the demands. Outside Christ, we’re left to build our own legacy, thinking we’re doing what’s right while we kill those who put their hope and trust in us. As we are exhorted to be unlike Jonah, let us be unlike LeBron. And let us be more and more like the true Savior King. And let us pray that LeBron will bow his knee as we have been granted to do.