This post comes to us by way of Mockingbird friend Matt Patrick.
To say the least, LeBron James has had a phenomenal year. Nick Lannon has said it before: the game of basketball has seemed to be unwinnable for LeBron — especially before this season. So, what’s happened?
LeBron is a player of whom much is demanded and has been since he was 16 years old — or younger. Since he arrived in the NBA, there have been particular demands (rather, laws) that have rocked LeBron’s world in profound ways. I’ve found two to be particularly disorienting for King James. The first law demands LeBron to measure up to Michael Jordan—we’ll call this law The Jordan Rules. This demand is overwhelmingly pervasive, dominating conversations and debates amongst basketball analysts and trickling down to the average fan. We also feel this law as we simultaneously anticipate the up-and-coming talent of the NBA and yet mercilessly compare them to Jordan (as we did LeBron). In reality, the The Jordan Rules will inevitably be a consistent theme/law in the history of the NBA — but that’s another subject.
The second notable demand was revealed in the wake of a bitter departure from his beloved Cleveland Cavaliers. We will call it the Law of Loyalty. During an interview last summer with ESPN, LeBron vulnerably expressed the anxiety from Cleveland that mastered him during his first year in Miami. Cleveland demanded LeBron’s loyalty; that he spend his entire career giving them his all to make the Cavaliers a dynasty. Perhaps no other moment expressed this demand better than when the fans of Cleveland notoriously burned his jersey in the city streets in response to “The Decision.” This law didn’t show LeBron an ounce of mercy; it’s no wonder LeBron was a nervous guy! Even in Miami, he was stuck.
Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat were the flicker for LeBron. It wouldn’t have been surprising for Wade to treat LeBron like the new guy, making him earn the trust of the team, but instead, he stepped back and charged LeBron to take the lead. In an interview with ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez (which is fantastic), Wade was asked about how he has dealt with LeBron coming to Miami. In order for LeBron to be free, both laws had to be, as Robert Farrar Capon says, “bound, gagged, and stuffed unceremoniously in the trunk.” Only then could a flicker of grace to come in for the rescue.
Wade to Gutierrez:
“It was probably one of the hardest things I had to do in sports was to in a sense, take a step back,” Wade said. “A lot of people don’t understand. They’ll say, ‘Why would you do that?’ To me, I want more success from winning. I don’t want another scoring title. I’m just trying to win.
“I felt that it had to come from nobody but me, to say, ‘Go ahead, man. You’re the best player in the world. We’ll follow your lead.’ Once I said that, I thought he kind of exhaled a little bit.
”LeBron is probably the most talented player we’ve seen in a while, but how good can we be? Are we going to be good if me and him are both scoring 27 a night? Yeah, we’re gonna be good, but it would be too much, ‘OK, it’s your turn, now it’s your turn.’
“I wanted to give him the opportunity where he didn’t have to think about that. It’s kind of like I told him, ‘Listen, I’ll find my way. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be there. But you go out and be the player that we want you to be.’”
Any other response would have only perpetuated LeBron’s anxiety, thus resulting in more imprisonment. Wade took a sacrificial step back for LeBron, gagging the two laws and stuffing them in the trunk. Wade’s sacrificial step back resulted in a scandalous freedom for LeBron, and ultimately it resulted in a 2012 MVP, an NBA title, Finals MVP, and an Olympic gold medal.