This summer, as LeBron James announced to the world, and the children of the Greenwich Boys and Girls Club, that he was taking his talents to South Beach, I was in a sleeping bag, inside a tent, next to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in The Frank Church Wilderness in central Idaho. Needless to say it wasn’t until several days later, as our backpacking trip wrapped up, that I heard the news, coverage and opinions about his “Decision.” With the circus in full swing by the time I reached my computer, I have held back on offering any of my own opinions.
I have at various times agreed with almost everything I have read; which has created quite a set of contradictions within my thinking. LeBron has every right to make the decision that is best for his own life. I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t have made the same choice if placed in his position. However, the choice certainly reveals something about his character. It revealed something about his character in the same way that Lance Stephenson throwing his girlfriend down the stairs reveals something about his character. There is certainly more to Lance than the piece of his character that led to that act, just as there is more to LeBron’s character than what led to him choosing Miami. Every choice that we make everyday, large or small, reveals some piece of our character.
The part I have pondered the most is what piece of LeBron’s character was revealed by this choice. LeBron’s decision to go to Miami has been used at different times to argue that he is a quitter, immature, oblivious, an ego-maniac, and a sidekick. Last night I came across a quote which I think addresses this question in a very concise manner, and completely clarified my thinking.
Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never consistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man.
– Frank Herbert, Dune
The quote is from the classic science fiction novel, Dune, by Frank Herbert. The qu0te concerns a messianic off-world prophet, whose coming was foretold in a prophecy by the people of the desert planet Arrakis. The people of Arrakis have awaited his arrival for centuries. The prophet, known as the Lisan Al-Gaib, arrives on the planet as a 15-year-old boy, unaware of the prophecy or the destiny the local residents expect him fulfill.
The parallels to LeBron James leapt off the page and wrestled me to the floor. Since junior high LeBron has lived his life as the central figure in a modern myth. He has participated in perpetuating this myth to various degrees at different times, but I would argue that the myth-making is largely out of his control. Like the stories of Robert Bly and Sam Keen, a mythical template has been applied to a modern human being. As he was moving through his adolescence, the phase of one’s life where an identity is developed, he was dubbed “The King,” and we, with some minor prompting, willingly assumed the roles of “Witnesses.”
What LeBron’s choice this summer has revealed more than anything, is that he doesn’t have a feeling for the myth he’s in. He appears to lack that sense of the sardonic. As his life merged deeper with the mythical template, he either lost or never developed an awareness, that this myth was a construction of the people around him. The myth represented our projections and was not necessarily a reflection of his actual life, actions or attributes.
When he choose to leave the mythic template, due either to ignorance of the truth of the myth or because of a disregard for the value of it, he brought on scorn, ridicule and derision. But there may, however, be an unexpected escape for LeBron. All the scorn, ridicule and derision is directed not at LeBron the person, but at LeBron the mythic persona. This is because very few of the people offering opinions on this matter actually know LeBron the person. We know LeBron the myth, a myth we have all had a hand in creating. As I see it there are three ways out of this situation.
- LeBron can reach a realization of the division between himself and his mythic persona. If and when he realizes this division, he can continue with his life seeking happiness from intrinsic sources, ignoring the public repercussions of his actions and resulting damage to his mythic persona.
- LeBron can, through play on the court, public relations savvy, and plenty of help from willing and unwilling NBA fans, create a new persona for himself as part of a new mythic template. Perhaps he will become a villain. Perhaps the public scorn will create an opportunity for him to become a martyr and adhere to that template. Perhaps he will struggle in Miami and be presented with an opportunity to return to Cleveland as part of the prodigal son template.
- LeBron can continue as he seems to have been, unaware of the true nature of his myth and that the power for myth creation doesn’t lie with him but within the fans. He can struggle against this, desperately clinging to a persona which due to his own choices is no longer available to him.
Mine is certainly a very convoluted opinion on LeBron James, and I am sure many will disagree with the situation as I see it. One fact that I believe we can all agree on is the first line of the Herbert quote: Greatness is a transitory experience. LeBron has been immersed in greatness for the better portion of his life, and it remains to be seen what sort of experiences he will have with greatness in the future.