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.
More than Heat owner Micky Arison, Gilbert is comfortable partnering with James on how the franchise is operated and who has access to its inner sanctum. Arison has a powerful partner in Pat Riley, who has filled the Heat organization with loyalists and cronies. Riley is the visionary driving the Heat.
Perhaps King James wants to drive a franchise in a manner no previous athlete in a team sport ever has. Michael Jordan's basketball legacy is likely out of reach for the Chosen One. James has lost in the NBA Finals three times. Jordan never failed on the sport's biggest stage. But Jordan never competed in the social arena where James excels. And when Jordan tried to flex influence over the Chicago Bulls, Jerry Krause pushed Air Jordan into retirement.
James, perhaps, is trying to catch Muhammad Ali. Rocky Marciano finished with a perfect record. Ali, however, is regarded as The Greatest. Ali took chances. He risked his image and mass appeal by joining a controversial religion, opposing the draft and the Vietnam War, and threatening the establishment. James publicly supported Trayvon Martin, opposed Donald Sterling and has upset the establishment with his relentless support of Carter, Paul and Mims and power move(s) in free agency.
James is in pursuit of power, and he seems intent on using that power to give back to people who look like him and come from the same place.
And he should pass on a return to Cleveland and working alongside Dan Gilbert over pride? Really? Over an angry letter?
Power and progress are grown-folks business. Foolish pride is a vanity cherished by the young and the dumb. False pride is an important cog in the undercurrent fueling acrimony and disharmony in the poor and working class. Pride causes Joe the Plumber to believe his natural ally is a corporate CEO rather than Marquis the Factory Worker.
Proverbs teaches us that pride is the precursor to our crash. The King James version of the Bible says, "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."
For LeBron, there is no downside in forgiving Gilbert. Harboring those seeds of resentment and bitterness do not enrich James. They could potentially blind him to the opportunity at his feet. He can return home more seasoned, sophisticated and wise, and properly execute the vision he laid out years ago.
LeBron and his crew weren't ready four years ago. They didn't know what they didn't know. They were ill-equipped to handle the access and influence Gilbert granted them, and the environment turned toxic and unproductive. LeBrontourage went off to grad school in Miami and was kept at a respectable distance by Riley and his underlings. It might be time for graduation, a return home and mentoring of young people. The Cavaliers have been remodeled. Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins could benefit from the wisdom James acquired working with Wade and Bosh.
The Cavaliers have cleared salary space and are poised to pursue/acquire the supporting pieces James wants. James took less money for four years to play in Miami. With a chance to three-peat, Arison declined to pay the luxury tax to give James the necessary supporting cast.
An owner who wrote an angry letter versus an owner unwilling to make the kind of financial sacrifice James made. Let's quit talking about pride. Let's focus on progress and power.