Lessons from Lebron

LeBron dunk (via NBA Twittter)

Frank Ryan is back as a guest speaker here at WFNY to give another impassioned look at sports.

It makes no sense…

Why do you allow your life to be impacted by balls desperately bouncing on iron, trying to sneak by outstretched leather, or fighting to nestle in Stickum smeared gloves? These questions come often from one of my closest friends, who was denied (or spared, depending on your perspective) by his sports-ignorant parents the opportunity to experience the tribulations and joys of claiming the athletic accomplishments and failures of immensely talented yet complete strangers, as their own.
I have never known if there is a rational response to his incredulity, but I do believe that at the very least, sports so often provides invaluable metaphors that can help us navigate through the stuff of life. I suspect that many share this sentiment, yet sports is so versatile that its lessons and takeaways are unique to every individual and their personal experiences in life’s arena.

One of the things that strikes me quite often is that every year in every sport only one team can boast of reaching their goal. The next season everyone is back in there, grinding, hopeful, and excited about the prospect of unveiling the next chapter. How many times have we taken on a new project, failed, and remain as committed to tackling the next challenge in front of us with the same energy, even if at times success seems impossible? (even though my mentor George Costanza maintained that “hope is a terrible thing,” he was a Yankee fan so his opinion for this conversation is quite invalid).

All of this brings me, on the eve of the NBA playoffs, to the singular athlete that has most encapsulated for me this ongoing theme of sports as a metaphor for life, on the brink of perhaps his final run in our beloved locale:
Lebron Raymone James.

Oh, the roller coaster that was our relationship with the King. The undying love and loyalty. The betrayal that spawned uncontrollable and irrational animosity. The awkward hesitant reunion. The newly earned admiration. And finally, the flag firmly planted on top of the mountain that seemed to so many of us as steep as Everest.

To me, that is a depiction of life itself.

The moment the ping pong balls bounced our way in 2003, the city exploded. The possibilities were endless. The first transcendent athlete in Cleveland since perhaps Jim Brown and a native son to boot, was coming to get us all fitted for that elusive ring. It was just a matter of time.

Except life doesn’t always work out that way, does it? Talent needs to be accompanied by good decision making. Ambition and drive needs to be coupled with the execution of a well-crafted plan. Perhaps most importantly, sometimes as fans and more significantly as people, we don’t always get what we think is fair and deserved.

When he left, I did not think that I would ever forgive him. I yelled from the rooftops in 2014 that I had no interest in him coming home. Even if he would come back and win a championship, I declared that it would feel cheap and dirty. We aren’t some spurned lover that takes back those that have hurt us at the first sight of shiny trinkets or melt at beautifully composed prose.

That first season was really strange. I was a Cavs fan and so I continued to root for them. Pulling for Lebron was different though. My heart wasn’t into it. I had spent four years of my life hating the man for what he did to my dreams (I told you sports doesn’t make sense!), and) and rooting against him at all costs. How could I flip on a dime? I felt like a sellout. I was stuck.

The 2015 finals changed everything for me. He poured every ounce of effort and talent into an impossible task. He never had a chance yet he refused to acknowledge it. His performance told me that this fanbase was important to him. He cared and desperately wanted to show it. It was the single most impactful sports experience for me. I may be delusional, but I felt like I was getting back something from an athlete in return for my investment. It meant more in many ways than the championship that followed.

So, as Lebron makes another run at glory, I implore you to appreciate what he has done for this city. He has accepted all challenges and carried all burdens. He expended all his energy and immense talent bringing us the one thing we longed for most. Along the way, however, he gave us so much more. Let the lessons of his career stick with you. Effort, drive, and consummate professionalism are important. Knowing how to forgive and rebuild bridges is vital. Do not allow your failures to define you. Get up from the mat and reach for the impossible. You will find much more is attainable than you have ever imagined.

If that is our takeaway from this remarkable native son, then we can give some real meaning to our fandom. Whatever his decision about his future after this season is, we can be at peace. The journey was well worth it. We can tell our friends who have no idea why we follow sports:
“You have no idea what you are missing.”