“Because at the end of the day, all the people that were rooting for me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they have to get back to the real world at some point.” – Lebron James, June 13, 2011, after losing the 2011 NBA Finals
Nothing brings out people’s passions like religion, politics, and sports. In each of those categories there are perceived winners and losers, good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. There has not been a more polarizing figure in modern American sports than LeBron James. James was a high school prodigy who became one of the most loved then hated athletes in America.
James’s life hasn’t been easy. James was born in December of 1984, in Akron, Ohio, to a 16 year old mother. His biological father, Anthony McClelland, was an ex-convict who wasn’t present in LeBron’s life, leaving his mother, Gloria, to raise James by herself. I have often discussed the challenges of being raised in a fatherless home by a single mother and LeBron was not immune to those challenges in his childhood.
His mother battled many personal problems while raising him and had difficulties keeping a job, so they often moved from apartment to apartment. Despite her struggles, Gloria worked hard to shield LeBron from the traps of poverty and violence. LeBron played wide receiver as a child and his pee-wee football coach, Frankie Walker, would go on to have a big influence on his life. Walker took LeBron in for a few months when he discovered LeBron was struggling in school. After 18 months, LeBron returned home and the Walker’s and LeBron’s mom worked out an agreement to help with the rent and support for LeBron.
James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16 and named the National High School Player of the Year in 2003. James was drafted number one overall in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. James’s moniker was “The King”, and everyone instantly began comparing him to Michael Jordan, the game’s greatest player, and expecting multiple championships from him. He failed in 2007, to win the championship, and after multiple playoff failures James decided to “take his talents to South Beach”.
What would become known as “The Decision” would also become one of the major turning points in LeBron’s life. On July 8, 2010, James announced that he was leaving Cleveland and teaming up with All-Stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. “The Decision” raised $2.5 million for the Boys and Girls Club and an additional $3.5 million from advertisement revenue which was donated to other various charities. To complicate things even more, James, Wade, and Bosh celebrated their union with a blow-out introduction party where James went on to say (in a jokingly manner) Miami would win “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” championships. These two events would turn LeBron from loved to hated across the country.
LeBron’s first year in Miami was filled with boos on the road and criticism in sports columns. All of LeBron’s mistakes on the court were maximized and scrutinized like no other player in history. Year one of Miami’s LeBron era would end with the ultimate disappointment, The Heat lost in 6 games to the Dallas Mavericks with LeBron playing poorly down the stretch in many of the games. The criticism and jokes soon followed LeBron after losing the 2011 Finals. Like many of us in our lives, LeBron faced a decision, he could succumb to the disappointment or rise above it, he did the latter. In an April 2012 Sports Illustrated article LeBron said the following:
“I lost touch with who I was as a basketball player and a person, I got caught up in everything that was going on around me, and I felt like I had to prove something to people, and I don’t know why. Everything was tight, stressed”
LeBron worked hard to improve his game, attitude, and demeanor in the summer of 2011. LeBron grew up; he put away childish things and started the 2011-2012 NBA season on a mission of redemption. LeBron would go on to win his Third MVP award that season, but he knew only an NBA championship could validate his move from Cleveland to Miami and fortify him as an all-time great player. LeBron silenced his critics by averaging 30 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assist through the Playoffs including a historic 45 point elimination game against the Boston Celtics. LeBron and Miami won the 2012 NBA championship with James being named the MVP of the NBA Finals.
One year later, Lebron James is once again an NBA champion. Lebron and the Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs 4-3 in a thrilling NBA Finals. James was phenomenal again scoring 37 and grabbing 12 rebounds on his way to his second straight MVP performance. LeBron joins Michale Jordan and Larry Bird to win the regular season MVP and Finals MVP in the same season multiple times. James tied the record for most points in a Finals Game 7 since the LeBron-Jordan comparisons will never end through their first 10 seasons: MVPs James 4-Michael 3, Finals MVP James 2-Michael 3, and titles James 2-Michael 3… LeBron doesn’t want to be the next Jordan, he just wants to be the first LeBron. Here is James’s magnificent quote after winning his second championship:
“Listen, I can’t worry about what everybody says about me. I’m LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here. That’s enough. Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a No. 6 with James on the back, I’m blessed. So what everybody says about me off the court, don’t matter. I ain’t got no worries.”
There will continue to be those who dislike and criticize James; he is the most polarized athlete in America. Now when you talk of LeBron James you can no longer use the nicknames “The Frozen One”, “Prince James”, “The Lying King” or “LeBrick”, no, now when you talk of LeBron you will call him a champion.
LeBron’s story is what the American Dream is all about. His story is possible only in America and it should give encouragement to all of those who wasn’t born on third base, who had to experience difficulties growing up, and overcoming seemingly impossible odds. Today’s athletes are constantly in the headlines for the wrong reasons: drunk driving, murder, steroids, cheating, domestic violence, etc., but never LeBron. LeBron’s story is a story of hard-work and redemption that should be appreciated and applauded.