The wrong P-word is being tossed around in the LeBron James free-agency saga.
Pride. There's a prevailing sentiment among some folks, particularly black folks, that LeBron will have to swallow his pride in order to play basketball again for Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. My friend and colleague J.A. Adande wrote a compelling piece probing larger NBA labor issues that separate James and Gilbert. This piece focuses singularly on pride and what role it should play in LeBron's decision-making.
In the aftermath of "The Decision," Gilbert ripped the NBA's top player for abandoning his home area to join forces with Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Four years ago in a letter to Cavs fans, Gilbert described James' actions as "cowardly," "narcissistic" and "heartless." He ranted like a jilted lover. The letter, in my eyes, illustrated the unhealthy depth of Gilbert's love and the thinness of the divide between it and hate. Of course, this being America, Jesse Jackson and a few other opportunists framed Gilbert's immature ramblings as racist and an indication of a slave owner's mindset.
That exaggerated and sensationalized framing still carries weight today, even among people who never believed it. That is why multiple stories have been written revolving around whether James can forgive Gilbert for writing an angry letter. Will James' pride allow him to toil for Gilbert's team?
Pride should have zero to do with James' decision. Progress and power should rule which uniform James wears moving forward. Which team -- Miami or Cleveland -- will give James the best chance of making progress toward his on- and off-court goals, and which team will grant him the most power to shape the franchise?
Pride -- the salvation of African-Americans when we were in chains, limited by Jim Crow laws -- has turned into an Achilles' heel for many of us. Unchecked pride evolves into swagger, a hypnotizing mask of insecurity that can and does compromise our ability to make progress and attain power. Pride stands in the way of forgiveness and a strategic approach to navigating a chessboard rigged to prevent pawns from becoming kings and queens.
Make no mistake, pride is an American problem. It's why we live above our means. It baits us into a delusion that cripples our self-awareness. Pride is the reason we won't address our poisonous gun laws, our fruitless war on drugs and terror, our abuse of the Earth.
Let's hope LeBron James is wiser and more mature than the rest of us. That sentence is not an endorsement of James' returning to Cleveland. I do not have enough information to make a credible argument for where James should continue his basketball career. I just know pride should play no role. Progress and power should.
With progress and power as part of the equation, Gilbert and the Cavaliers are a sound option. James has prioritized empowering his childhood friends (agent Rich Paul, business partner Maverick Carter and right hand Randy Mims) as part of his professional mission. There is considerable evidence this can best be achieved in Cleveland, a city a short drive away from their hometown of Akron.