A few nights ago, Lebron James passed Michael Jordan on the all-time NBA scoring list. He accomplished this great achievement to little celebration or applause from an uninterested Lakers Staples Center audience.
In comparison, when Kobe achieved this accomplishment, the game stopped, but that’s not why we’re here. There is, however, something to take away from this convoluted moment in sports history. One would expect the game to stop as Lebron receives a standing ovation for passing his idol in this moment but could also anticipate folks staying seated in silence. This is because Lebron James has always been a complex sports figure whose on-court and off-court realities have been hard to reconcile within the traditional ways we’ve become accustomed to reconciling them.
That last note is key, by the way. In my opinion, we as a society have been conditioned to place professional sports stars in neatly carved athlete archetypes. There’s the activist who is always pushing the boundaries of social consciousness with his or her statements during press conferences. There’s all-American who never gets in trouble, always performs at high levels and makes no comment on social issues. There’s the bad boy who battles personal vices but never at the expense of greatness on the court or in the field. Lebron James has never fit neatly into any of these archetypes, and that’s why he’s so vexing to the public conscious. It should be noted that he’s never been the subject of controversy outside the realm of basketball (The Decision might be his biggest gaffe ahead of signing to the Lakers).
Nike cofounder, Phil Knight, spoke to Stanford’s Graduate Business School last month and revealed something that will further add to the legend of Lebron. He revealed that a conversation with the kid from Akron ultimately drove him to advocate for and support the controversial advert featuring Colin Kaepernick.
Here’s what he said according to story from Quartzy:
Some weeks before, however, he had been speaking to James, and mentioned his concern about his grandsons getting their driver’s licenses. James admitted being worried about his own son starting to drive, for very different reasons. As James had said publicly in the past, he feared that his son could be shot by the police if he were ever pulled over. It’s the exact sort of situation Kaepernick protested against by kneeling during the anthem.
“I thought of the top hundred worries I have, and that doesn’t make my list,” Knight said. “That was a real eye-opener.”
It appears that this conversation with Lebron delivered a moment of catharsis to Knight that would ultimately make him the advocate needed to push the controversial advertisement through corporate red tape, adding support from CEO Mark Parker and pushing the creative out into the world.
This is why Lebron James is the greatest of all time, in my opinion. I don’t believe anyone prior to Lebron came into professional sports with as much pressure as he has. There were championship expectations before Day 1 in one of the toughest markets to win, Cleveland. Not only has he accomplished professional success, he’s done so without compromising his passion to change the world for better. Lebron’s perspective is that he can use his position to improve the condition of other humans, and he’s enacted that perspective in so many ways. This is just one.
It’s a reminder that your perspective is your most valuable asset. You must protect it at all costs and promote it with veracity.
So, the next time you’re in a barber shop, arguing about who’s the greatest of all time — ask your opponent if their candidate has ever put hundreds of millions of dollars in endorsements at risk to change the condition of other humans for the better, and won. You’ll win every time.