Thursday, May 20, 2010

Most Likely to Succeed: LeBron James

The 2009-2010 season may be complete for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but one thing isn’t—talk and more talk about their star, LeBron James. The media and basketball fans alike want to know if “the King will leave his Kingdom.” I cannot complete my morning commute and not hear Colin Cowherd of ESPN radio talk about: LeBron and the new/limited/proposed CBA (Collecting Bargaining Agreement), LeBron and the Knicks, LeBron and the Cavs….LeBron and Chicago? Listeners call in to claim: LeBron brings the game to another level; he looks and often performs like a Superhero. Standing 6’8" the fact that he is listed as a “small forward” is THE misnomer of the NBA. One can only deduce that LeBron is not the exception to the rule, but to many rules. Is he?

Curious for a more complete portrait of “King James,” I watched his “60 Minutes” interview from 2009. It flashed back to LeBron on his graduation day, accompanied by four of his high school and AAU teammates who now serve as his business advisers. He was named “Most Likely to Succeed” by the 2003 graduating class from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School of Akron, OH, and with good reason. LeBron was drafted into the NBA out of high school. At just 18 years of age, he was selected with the number one pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Before his graduation day, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated—a magazine largely unfamiliar to him.

Today, he reigns as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for back-to-back seasons. In addition to winning an NBA Championship, LeBron hopes to be the first $1 billion dollar athlete. With his $100 million Nike contract, as well as the $83 million contract he is currently still under with Cleveland, it is safe to say—if LeBron has his way, he will be. However, he will have to leave his quasi-hometown for New York in order to do so.

I should not have been surprised when I learned LeBron earned “most likely to succeed” but I was. I wouldn’t say I had a knee-jerk reaction, but I did pull my head back as I realized—I must have a different notion of success. Perhaps recent conversations with my seniors about vocation have caused me to think “success” is something other, even something more.
In her “Reflections on Vocation” Edith Stein wrote “The word vocation retains little of its original connotation—to be called. Instead, when you people are about to graduate, one wonders what occupation they should pursue, and the term vocation does not convey much more than gainful employment.” John Paul II declared, “Everyone has a vocation, a calling. Everyone has something to do for God…” Yet what does to be called mean? And, what does God ask of me? In his article, “The Discovery of Vocation” Mick McCarthy provides an answer. “Vocation, suggests a quality of discernment and reflection on the mystery of our lives before God that career fails to capture.” Mother Teresa said, “We are all called to make something beautiful for God.”

When I see LeBron’s athletic feats, I see beauty. And in the larger framework of vocation, without a doubt, LeBron is unique. Graduation from high school meant full-time employment. At a young age he was put on a career path that no young person would need to discern; playing in the NBA is a dream come true. For most young people, however, the path is not so determined. It is safe to say, however, that success is something they desire. 

Fortunately, many religious schools and faith communities are inviting students to consider what they may be called to in a unique way and what success may really mean. McCarthy adds, “at their best, Jesuit schools (such as SI) comprise such communities, where we are pushed to live and think within wider horizons, where human flourishing does not simply defer to the nearest available definition of success but is modeled on the unique dispositions of Jesus, after whom St. Ignatius of Loyola named his Society. In such a context we may discover vocations that surprise us, derail us, make us reconsider our conceptions of excellence and happiness, and lead us finally to a joy we wouldn’t otherwise have imagined if our sights had been narrowly set on a career path.”
In the “60 Minutes” interview, LeBron said, “God gave me a gift to do other things besides play basketball.” I wonder for LeBron what that will mean, once the CBA is determined and settled. In his article “The Chosen Path” William Spohn said “Without the light of faith and honest awareness that we have been gifted by God, the world’s needs can seem an overwhelming burden. Without knowledge of the actual conditions of the world, our talents and aspirations can be wasted, sadly, on mere success.” I can only hope that what LeBron’s classmates conferred on him at graduation seven years ago, will not be limited to success in basketball. I hope he will realize that what the world needs maybe isn’t the first $1 billion dollar athlete, but someone to use those others gifts to build the Kingdom of God here, today, and now.

Photo Credits
We Are All Witnesses 1
Sports Illustrated: The Chosen One
Sports Illustrated: Power of LeBron
Graduation Day 2008: Bus Leonard, Winner of the "Ignatian Award"
Vocation: Michael Noyes
We Are All Witnesses 2


  1. Very thought provoking Anne! I am intrigued by the Nike ads too. "We are all witnesses." What do you suppose Nike's perspective was in using that tagline... witnesses to his phenomenal talent~ in other words, he is God like in his talent? Or, we are witnesses to the incredible gift God gave him?? Or something else perhaps? Your thoughts?

  2. Peggy: You have inspired my next posting and your timing is serendipitous. Today, the Feast of Pentecost of the origin of those words. They are Peter's response (in Acts 2). I know how/why this relates to LeBron and I'll see if I can dig anything up re: Nike.

    You'll be seeing more of those ads should LeBron come to your knew home/city. Thanks for reading!