An Open Letter to
NBA Finals 2015
It might be hard to believe, but in this social-media-driven age, I've never written an “open letter.”
Congratulations on being my first!
I admit that I find open letters kind of strange. After all, I’m almost 100% positive you'll never read this. I'd guess most open letters are not read by the person they're written to.
Maybe six people will read this one. Or 600. I have no idea. But I’m still addressing it to you because, well, otherwise it wouldn’t be an open letter.
So here we go.
After game five of the Finals on Sunday, a reporter asked why you're playing so comfortable and carefree. You said, “I’m confident because I’m the best player in the world.”
Then there was that pause. A long, glorious, awkward pause. You had command of the room. I think the reporter was a bit taken aback. He recovered well.
I wasn't surprised. But I cringed. I wonder if others did, too. It felt icky and ugly to me. I'm sorry to tell you that. It was...sad.
Still, how can anyone blame you for being honest and authentic? You released those words without batting an eye. It would've been dishonest to say otherwise, of course. Everyone knows you're right. You are, in fact, the best all-around basketball player in the world. (Right now, that is. Because, well, MJ--but that's another open letter.)
It's quite a feat and it should bring you a great sense of accomplishment. You've worked hard, as you said, whether people were watching or not. You’ve earned it.
But I have to ask, who were you trying to convince? Us? Or yourself?
We don’t need you to tell us you're the best player in the world. We were already convinced before the game. Your play has convinced us.
So why the need to state your case?
You're playing at such a high level with no signs of slowing down even after a long season. You're a beast and a ballerina on the floor--at the very same time. Legends and all-stars stand in awe of you.
And yet it might not be enough.
You very well could lose this series–maybe even tonight. And if I know anything about the human heart, you'll continue to try to convince yourself that you are enough, especially, in defeat.
I know this because I do it, too. On a daily basis, I attempt to justify my existence to others. I want to show others that I am enough. That I am strong or right or smart or able or whatever. I defend myself. I blame shift. (I’ve gotten pretty good at this one, ask my wife.) I exaggerate my virtues and hide my vices. I'm so glad these people don’t write articles and blogs and op-eds about me.
I make my case like a seasoned attorney--just like you did in that post-game presser. But in my sane moments, I realize that I’m not actually trying to convince a jury of my peers.
I’m trying to convince me.
Your sneakers are a bit bigger than mine but trust me, I’ve walked in your shoes. I’m not calling you out for something I’ve never done or acknowledged. It's just that my words don't make it on SportsCenter.
If this series doesn’t go the way you want, you could say, “Wait ’til next year.” That’s the great thing about sports, right? There’s always next year. Until there’s not a next year.
You won’t play forever. Nobody does. Your body will break down and you will be a shadow of your prime self. (My athletic prime lasted for about four and a half innings playing spring baseball as a sophomore in high school, but I digress.)
You'll have to walk away from the game. Like Michael. Like Magic. Like Larry. Like Wilt. Maybe you'll be the best ever, but you'll still walk away.
And in the end, you'll have to ask yourself, Is LeBron James enough for LeBron James?
Your legacy can go one of two ways. Puffing yourself up and making sure everyone knows what you think about yourself. Or the way of love and humility and self-sacrifice. The first comes pretty natural. The second, not so much.
What's does self-sacrifice look like? Picture this. The most famous person in the world walks into a room and makes everyone else, personally and individually, feel like the guest of honor.
There’s something attractive and beautiful about someone who has attained mastery of a skill or subject and is able to go about his business with quiet, dignified humility. This person knows who he is. He knows his worth and value. He doesn’t need to defend or sell or make his case. Win, lose, or draw. Above all, he knows that if he were to celebrate his own greatness, it would diminish his achievements.
When we get to this point, we can forget ourselves. Now, it's time to make others look great, to shine a light on their talents. We raise them up, rather than put them down. We deflect the credit and take the blame. We take our eyes off ourselves and consider the needs of others more significant than ours.
I want to be more like that. I hope you do, too.
It may not always lead to more championships. But it will be one heck of a legacy: true greatness that outlasts us and anything we find in this world.
Good luck tonight. You will need it--those Warriors are tough.
With absolute respect,