With every action, there is a reaction. We choose how we will respond to a question, a challenge, a problem or in LeBron's case, name calling. When we succeed it's hard to contain our enthusiasm and keep the celebration far from excessive. At other times, it's not easy to let emotions of anger, frustration and disgust get the best of us, especially if prodded or provoked. Thus, when given the choice, we ought to take the high road or as Ron Burgundy would have it, "stay classy."
Though scripture does not mention "the high road" and why good people must take it, in Paul's letters he urges the people of Corinth to "strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gift, the Way of Love. But I shall show you a more excellent way" or as the Notre Dame Folk Choir sings it "to set your heart on the higher gifts." (1 Corinthians 12:31)
Some spiritual gifts are better than others, some pathways are straighter, narrower and higher. So when we set our sights on greater gifts or choose to take the higher road, we are exercising the virtue of love. Love has many iterations; no wonder the Greeks have so many words for it. And for me to try to connect taking the higher road as an act of love to what transpired in the NBA Finals feels like a stretch—a big one. It's an emotional game. This is the final series. Competitive greats love the game, but they love winning (maybe even more!). Hence the conflict between LeBron and Draymond on the hardwood.
And this is what LeBron had to say about it in his post-game interview—a series of questions and answers in response to comments made by Green's teammate, Klay Thompson. The Yahoo interview includes the transcript
LEBRON JAMES: I’m not going to comment on what Klay said, because I know where it can go from this sit- in. It’s so hard to take the high road. I’ve been doing it for 13 years. It’s so hard to continue to do it, and I’m going to do it again.At the end of the day, we’ve got to go out and show up and play better tomorrow night; and if we don’t, then they’re going to be back-to-back champion, and that’s it.But I’ve taken the high road again.
I think it's important to take the high road, I think it's critical for coaches to model this and for players to choose it. However, in order to take the high road, one must know a little bit about what that means. Love has something to do with it and yes, focusing on our spiritual gifts does too, but I'm pretty sure that one of the primary rules about taking the higher road is that you don't tell others you are taking it. One need not mention how difficult it is or for how long you have been taking it. Defeats the point, no?
Here is where I find a much stronger connection to Scripture. When Jesus taught about Giving Alms and how to pray, He said the following in Matthew 6:1-8:
“[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites* do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
LeBron, you played a remarkable game last night. The Warriors lost to your team because you and your teammate Kyrie Irving were unstoppable with 41 points each. But I'm not convinced you took the high road in Game 4 (personally I think you deserved a flagrant).
And, I believe the people of Cleveland, happy as they are to have you back, would sincerely question if you have taken the high road for the past 13 years. In the article "I'm Coming Home" you wrote 'Remember when I was sitting up there at the Boys and Girls Club in 2010? I was thinking, This is really tough. I could feel it. I was leaving something I had spent a long time creating. If I had to do it over again, I'd obviously do things differently, but I'd still have left." Taking the high road involves not just what you do, but how you do it. Though Miami confirmed you were a champion, the road you took to get there was a low one.
The road of the NBA Finals heads back to Cleveland, known as the "Mistake on the Lake" and the "armpit of the United States." And yet the most recent "3o for 30 documentary" refers to it as something else: Believeland.
Thank you LeBron for helping me believe not only what we are called to do, but how we should do it.