Let’s begin with this: I don’t dislike LeBron for leaving Cleveland. He was a free agent and well within his rights. I don’t even judge him for “The Decision” special. It was a dumb mistake fed by a 26-year-old ego. My gripe with ‘Bron is that he chose to team up with two all-stars instead of defining his own legacy of greatness – along with his excessive choking being nothing short of infuriating to watch. But when it’s all said and done 20 years down the road and LeBron’s got a few rings, people won’t remember how much we hate him now. Just like nobody talks about all of Wilt Chamberlain’s embarrassing NBA Finals outings.
Or how nobody talks about Michael Jordan’s biggest failure.
There’s a prevalent idea when it comes to our heroes that we have to love every aspect of their careers. We hate everything about Joe Frazier and love everything about Michael Jordan. However, MJ set a horrible precedent that most of his preceding sports icons eschewed: ambivalence.
Ali. Jabbar. Russell. Brown. They all spoke out against injustice and made it a point to wear their political and social beliefs on their sleeves. Jordan was the opposite. The ultimate corporation that lived for the bottom line. The greatest basketball player of all time is lesser-known for his stance that “Republicans buy shoes, too” because we choose to paint him in the shining light as the real-life Superman that beat every obstacle and any flu bug. But off the court? He cowered away from ruffling any social or political feathers.
And that was totally his prerogative. Jordan is well within his rights to avoid off-court confrontation as much as we’re well within our rights to be disappointed by it. Subsequently, as the most important athlete of our generation, other athletes followed suit. Everyone wanted to be like Mike on an off the court, so most athletes stayed as good old boys, earning millions and keeping their mouths shut.
That’s where LeBron and the Heat come in. By donning hoodies and standing in unison for Trayvon Martin, they took more of a stand than most athletes in the Jordan and post-Jordan era have dared to take. Of course, they could have taken a bigger stand, and wearing hoodies doesn’t really do anything tangible for Trayvon, his family or race relations. But it’s a start.
With one picture uploaded to Twitter, LeBron did more than Michael Jordan ever did. Actually, LeBron is doing a lot to circumvent the way Jordan did things – for better or worse. Despite the fact he did go to an already loaded squad, Bron’s “Decision” put the power in the hands of the athlete – the Black athlete – and finally made owners responsible to answering to their superstars for a change. And, if you look at how Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard handled their free agencies, LeBron’s media circus seems like the better way to have handled his “freedom.”
Maybe we’ll look back on LeBron as a vilified public figure that stood for what he believed in and stuck it to the man. Maybe we won’t. Whatever the case, I sincerely hope that the Miami Heat hoodie picture is one step out of the shadow of the Michael Jordan “Era of Silence” and into a new one where athletes again start using their clout and pull to make noise and take a stand where it matters.
If that happens, who knows, maybe I’ll even cheer for LeBron in the fourth quarter.
Previously: An Open Letter To Trayvon Martin