Sometimes even nice people are so self-serving that they deserve a blog of their own. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is not a very interesting character for me to write about normally. But tonight, he will announce to a breathless world where he will be playing basketball for the next five or six years. Since the announcement consists of one word (probably “Miami” or “Cleveland”), it seems a little over-the-top to schedule a one-hour special with a full slate of commercials. That is, of course, unless you see yourself as an industry rather than a person.
Of course, some of the money from selling the advertising will reportedly go to the Boys and Girls Clubs, a very worthwhile charity, and one that James faithfully supports. I have seen the kind of difference they make in our community, and I am hesitant to be critical of any effort that benefits them, even if the whole thing smacks of self-promotion.
But the self-worship that characterizes the NBA nowadays makes it difficult for me to be objective in evaluating motives. It is becoming increasingly difficult to identify stars with at least significant vestiges of humility any more. I lived in San Antonio for the prime of Tim Duncan’s career, and I watched him willingly share the limelight with teammates like David Robinson, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. In fact, he was always the person speaking to the press about the exploits of those who were rarely laudedâ€”Bruce Bowen or Steve Kerr or Malik Rose. And he won four championships, none of which the San Antonio Spurs would have won without him.
Now NBA players seek their own cult following. Dwayne Wade, the Miami Heat star who is trying to lure James to his team, was on TV today wearing a t-shirt that said Miami-Wade County, a take-off on Dade County, Miami’s home. This is not a t-shirt you wear YOURSELF; you leave it to all those people-worshippers who pour their money out to sustain money-producing machines like the NBA. But there he was, wearing this “worship me” shirt on national television, completely unaware that there might be an issue in doing so.
This might make Miami the perfect fit for James. Certainly, Shaquille O’Neal found his last professional relevance there, in a place where he was as famous for his house as for anything he did on the court. What better place than South Beach to operate as a stratosphere of stars who really enjoy looking in the mirror?
Since Miami is also planning to sign Toronto Raptors star forward Chris Bosh, they will have to trade Michael Beasley, one of their two remaining players, and the only one making any real money. That will mean, under NBA salary cap rules, that Miami will have to sign eleven other players to minimum contracts. It will be a roster of misfits, used-to-be’s and never-wases, and they will probably win two or three NBA titles. Bring back Stephon Marbury and Latrell Sprewell! They will carry the water, literally, for the three stars. Start working on your jump shot, because you are a candidate. And you can’t wipe the smile off NBA commissioner David Stern’s face.
Because he knows that self-serving sells tickets. It also sells business deals, and gets you CEO jobs and key government appointments. This is, unfortunately, because we are a nation of people worshippersâ€”politicians and corporate leaders as much as athletes. We tune in to await the latest wisdom and to validate ourselves in identifying with them. Nothing can deter usâ€”lying executives, politicians without consciences, athletes in every sport from baseball to cycling using performance enhancing drugs. Because performance is all that mattersâ€”not character, not conscience, not substance.
And tonight, America will tune in for the latest performance.
Categories: Bottom Line Ethics