If you don’t care about basketball or LeBron James, no worries.  I won’t write about him very much.  I will use this high-profile job change as a backdrop upon which we can project a few life lessons that could be beneficial for our children.         

Let me start this post by saying that my family and I lived in Akron when I worked with the Akron YMCA up until last November.  I marveled at how the community revered this 25 year-old man – how they (we) expected him to carry our hopes and dreams on his shoulders.  I watched him accept that responsibility.  This young athlete grew up in the same community in which he played basketball as a professional.  It was a rare treat to live in Ohio and watch this incredible transition.  He and his foundation ran the King for Kids Bike-a-thon for young people in Akron.  This event gave away 100 bikes to deserving kids each year.  LeBron and friends (including Dwayne Wade) rode bikes in the event, talked to kids, shook hands, and posed for photos.  Money from his events benefited the YMCA, the Urban League, and now the Boys & Girls Club.  He tried to raise the community up.  He did this from age 18 to 25.  I am embarrassed when I think about what I spent my free time on when I was in my early 20s.          

Now, for this first time in his 25 years on earth, this young man is leaving his hometown to try life in another community, and it hurts those he has left behind.  He knew it would.  And I’m confident that made his decision much more difficult.         

Lebron James

 

Last night and this morning I watched the Facebook status updates from Ohio and beyond (the first one below is from Britain).  They were hard to read, but I wanted to share some of the comments:       

  1. “Lebron is a greedy wanker!”
  2. “Welcome to Wade’s team – not yours!”
  3. “How do I teach my children loyalty?”

If your children are aware of this mayhem, what do you talk about?  Even if your children are not aware of LeBron, there will be obvious parallels in your family’s life.  Imagine a beloved teacher taking another job and moving on.  We’ve all seen families separate and suffer through the transition.  In today’s world, people are coming into the lives of our children – and then moving on – regularly.  We are a society in flux.        

I picked these three comments above because they are a great launching point for this conversation.        

Let’s start with greed.  In short, Lebron didn’t move on for cash.  He took a pay cut to join the Heat in Miami.  We often berate our celebrity athletes for choosing the larger contract over a winning team.  This young man did not.  He is seeking the win, the championship.  This might really be a great lesson for kids.        

Forget about James for a moment.  How many times have you left one job for another because of a larger salary?  Generally, this is one of the accepted reasons for pursuing a new employment opportunity.  If you switch jobs, and it impacts your family, what do you tell your children?  I am confident you don’t say you are moving your family across the country because you are a “greedy wanker.”  You would look your child in the eye and tell her that you have a great opportunity in a new town.  This new job will allow your family to live in a nicer house, or attend a better school district, or be closer to your extended family.        

The second comment I posted read, “Welcome to Wade’s team – not yours!”  Here is a great lesson for kids.  Lebron James, sports icon at 25, made a decision that forces him to be a team player.  He will join a team with multiple superstars that share a common goal – winning a championship.  I am hard pressed to say that this is anything but virtuous.  Even if he doesn’t ever win a championship in Miami, he put his principles (pursuit of winning) ahead of personal fame or increased fortune.  He has chosen a team and shared purpose or his individual identity.        

How do I teach my children about loyalty?”  In our short memories, perhaps we’ve forgotten that Lebron James already had the opportunity to move on to another team prior to this.  He “re-upped” his contract and gave his hometown team a total of 7 years.  I think that shows loyalty.  Is it the same committment Cal Ripken made to the Orioles?  Of course not, but Cal was raised in a different era, a less immediate era without the internet, Twitter, and Facebook.        

We switch schools.  We switch jobs.  We switch careers.  We even switch families.  Are we disloyal?  I hope not.        

Are there lessons to be learned from the LeBron-a-thon of the last several weeks?  Absolutely.  But, please, do not mistake the teachable moment to the gain or loss of a role model found in celebrity athletes.  Perhaps we ought to spend more time talking about the hows-and-whys we observe in celebrity behavior, and less time idolizing these people or expecting them to be the role models in our children’s lives.  I suspect the best role model in your child’s life is you – and I doubt you will ever give him or her a reason to question your loyalty or motivations.  As the CEO of the Akron YMCA, Doug Kohl, is fond of saying, “love your children until they ask you why.”  I think if you can do that, athletes switching teams and towns is a pretty small deal.        

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Last night, waiting to read about Lebron James’ decision (I don’t have ESPN :-)), I was sick to my stomach for Cleveland.  As much as any town in America, it could benefit from a championship sports team to lift it up.  At the same time, I was excited for a new opportunity for a young man that has already accomplished so much.  I hope he continues to support his hometown in any way he can, and I hope his hometown values those efforts, but like any breakup it will take effort on everyone’s part to mend the hurt feelings.  It will take humility and grace to continue to recognize a hometown hero, even if his success comes in Florida instead of Ohio.   

Let me end with this with a quote from a reasonable man I respect:        

“Good luck LeBron, make us proud for putting winning above money.  ‘Individuals are superstars, teams win championships.  I want to be a champion.’  Good luck LeBron.  I hope Akron still welcomes you home, you have done a lot for this area!”          

Thank you, Bob B. for articulating that sentiment so well – and thank you Lebron.  Congratulations on raising $5,000,000 for the Boys & Girls Club through your announcement last night.  Hopefully when this all shakes out, we can remember the good things you’ve done for Ohio as well as the pain we’ve felt in watching you move on.    

We’ll see you at Camp!       

Nathan

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