LeBron James’ Los Angeles home was spray-painted with hateful, racially motivated graffiti. The Cleveland Cavaliers forward addressed the situation at a press conference on the eve of the NBA Finals. He spoke eloquently about the challenges faced by African Americans in the United States — challenges which, sadly, don’t discriminate based on fame and fortune. He spoke from the heart and was human. Of all James’ talents, this may be his most important.
James is a polarizing player. His greatness is somehow underappreciated because he constantly commits the grave sin of not being Michael Jordan. But even the most vocal hater should recognize the way LeBron has exceeded seemingly impossible expectations both on the court and off of it.
He’s handled himself with dignity and matured over time. The youthful missteps have ceded ground to a wiser, more thoughtful father figure.
One may dislike James the player. One may disagree with his politics. But he carries his head high and with honor, even as the weight of the world resides on his shoulders. Cleveland is lucky to have him. The NBA is lucky to have him. Sports fans everywhere … well, you get the point.
And that will be part of his legacy when it’s all said and done. He’ll likely never catch Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all-time. But his willingness to speak on the issues and general humanity stand in stark contrast to Jordan.
It’s not necessary for a superstar athlete to be a role model, but James is. More importantly, he has shown no interest in shirking that position. Instead, he greets it head-on.
James’ Cavs may take the rubber series against the Warriors. They may not. But win or lose, James has already solidified himself as a proud ambassador for the game and, to be honest, life.
He will surely have a second life after retirement. Perhaps as an owner or even commissioner. Perhaps as an entertainer. At this rate, it wouldn’t be a shock if he ran for elected office.
James’ legacy will never be only about basketball. And that’s a good thing.