Friday, July 9, 2010


Yesterday I found myself in a very interesting discussion with a friend about whether or not LeBron James qualified as being humble.  My friend's contention is that James is simply doing what's best for James, and it doesn't even involve money so much as it does winning.  So who can blame him?  Also, his hour-long special on ESPN to announce the fact saw all the proceeds going to charity.  Isn't that the sign of humility?

Let's just say I had some choice words for my friend's opinion.  By no means can LeBron James and the word humble be mentioned in the same sentence.  An hour-long special spent announcing your intentions (which adds up to nothing but more speculation of the 2011 season), even if it were to cure world hunger, does not qualify for having humility. 

It's clear humility may be something of days past. However, it dawned on me that it could be perhaps  because no one understands what it is anymore, or more importantly, its value.

(image courtesy of Getty Images)

My friend argued that this was a brilliant marketing tactic, that any of us would do the same thing to expand our brand even further.  That's all well and good, and is very true for most people, particularly when the appropriate dollar signs are used to entice.  But again, this points to the fact that perhaps my friend misunderstands humility.

We live in an age where we are bombarded with the din of true and faux celebrities alike, all trying to garner our attention so that we recognize their supposed importance in the world.  These appearances are all trained on the audience's eye so that we, the reality tv-star, the runway model, the bad-boy chop shop owner, the ice trucker, and even me the blogger, all can grab our piece of the pie, which we suppose will somehow gain us fame, even more fortune, and perhaps yes, respect.  But really in the end this amounts to one key component of life few of us want to acknowledge:

We don't want to be forgotten.

Being the guy picked last in kickball, or the gal not invited to the Birthday party, or the graduate not being included on the reunion invitation list -- are there any feelings worse than being skipped or worse, completely overlooked?

In today's world, to not be forgotten means you need to scream at the top of your lungs from the highest mountain so that you can be heard above all the fray.  You have to hustle and yell and push and jostle just to amount to a blip on the world's radar.

Sadly, it is not the loudest who are oft remembered.  It is the quiet.

Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Larry Bird, James Worthy, Kevin McHale, Dick Butkus, Larry Csonka, Roger Staubach, Lou Brock, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays......

These names are revered and opined on repeatedly not because they spoke the loudest; not because they needed a reality tv show, and not because they picked up sponsorships.  They're remembered for their achievements, and more importantly, how they handled those achievements.

Case in point:  will Barry Bonds be remembered now as the Home Run King or will he be remembered as a steroid user who got caught?  How many of us are ready to appoint him the greatest hitter of all time?  I would conjecture that few of us will now, if ever.

LeBron James' one-hour special, whether for fundraising purposes or not, may have been well-intentioned.  But more likely the 'charity' thing was used as a tactic so that we wouldn't think less of him.  Don't be fooled by the fact that it doesn't take away from the fact it was a ONE-HOUR special!

My friend said to blame ESPN or the media for pushing for this -- that without them pushing there'd be no special.  Well sure you can do that, but plain and simple, if LeBron says no, there's no special.  Does anyone think in a million years Sandy Koufax would have done something like this?  Or Jackie Robinson?

If LeBron wanted to be humble and charitable at the same time, why not simply donate a chunk of your huge salary to charity annonymously and simply make your announcement as you have to: with the team at a small press conference, rather than to a world audience for an hour?  Because it wouldn't have been about LeBron then, that's why.

Because LeBron, much like Kobe, Iverson, Shaq, and a majority of professional atheletes aren't humble.  Humility doesn't compute with these guys, where they come from and in the world they're in now.  And even though LeBron will be as the others, screaming at the top of his lungs so he can be king for the day, if he fails to win championships his star will diminish in time and even be forgotten should his successor appear in the near future. 

Humility is a true test of a person's character as I understand it.  It is the complete acceptance of who you are and the ability to know what you do speaks in a volume far beyond what your vocal chords can acheive.  At the same time it allows respect and dignity to be kept by your fellow men and women who need not feel jealous or inferior because of your extra abilities and blessings.  This is why we rarely make statues to people who are still alive.  Humility precludes it.

Whether LeBron James is a good person or has good character, only time will tell.  But he certainly lacks plenty in the realm of humility.