By: Zachary Draves
Where to go next decade?
As the 2010’s close, this is a period of reflection and examining where we are and where we go.
In the world of sports, much has manifested over the last decade as athletes began to charter a new course. Now, it is not just about the stats and scores, but about being a whole person who can play the game and be relevant to the broader society.
The concept is to be more than an athlete.
It was LeBron James who took that motto and embraced its ethos.
He also made it the slogan of his brand.
Turning Up the Heat
LeBron began the decade by turning up the heat.
His vital decision to go to Miami from Cleveland in 2010 to play with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh was a media frenzy. (And arguably a mistake on his part as far as optics go.)
However, although it riled up Cleveland fans, it reminded athletes of the power they have to make choices.
He followed in the footsteps of Oscar Robertson, Curt Flood, and Spencer Haywood in the sense that he is in control of his destiny. He’s not held bent by the league, ownership, or even fans.
In other words, he is not anyone’s property.
LeBron became a catalyst for a player-led movement that has only grown in the NBA.
Players now play where they want to, and fans now see it as a benefit to teams.
Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, and Kawai Leonard have taken on the LBJ model and have won.
That is revolutionary, to say the least, and shows that players have immense leverage in determining where they take their careers.
LeBron has also become a media genius.
He has been a significant contributor to the new media renaissance that is ongoing among athletes.
Historically, major media outlets who covered athletes would be in the driver’s seat of the narrative and could put their spin.
Nowadays, athletes can be in control of the story and tell it like it is on their terms.
Look at athlete’s use of YouTube, Instagram, and The Players Tribune created by Derek Jeter that gives athletes a voice.
That is what LeBron has done with media projects such as the brilliant program “The Shop: Uninterrupted” on HBO. The show brings together athletes and entertainers together to talk about current events, sports, politics, culture, and seeing how they all intersect.
LeBron is now starting his own production company, and other players such as KD and Steph Curry have followed suit.
This decision is a powerful move because athletes have tremendous cultural capital, and it is in these times that they have accessibility to get their message out.
Social Advocate LeBron
LeBron has also evolved into a political and social figure.
His first public display of activism came after the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012.
He and his fellow Miami teammates took to twitter and posted that now-iconic image of the team wearing hoodies in honor of Trayvon with the hashtag #WeAreTrayonMartin.
LeBron spoke movingly about how Trayvon’s death personally impacted him and how he saw Trayvon in his two sons.
He was worried about their safety and the hardship of growing up being a black man in America.
From there, LeBron took on the role of athlete activist with pride.
In 2014, he and other NBA players such as Derrick Rose took to the court wearing t-shirts saying “I Can’t Breathe” in support of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who the NYPD choked to death.
In 2016, Carmelo Anthony, DWade, and Chris Paul, all socially and politically engaged, joined LeBron on stage at the ESPYs. They called attention to all athletes to take stands and to become involved in social change in light of the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile as well as the murders of five Dallas police officers.
In 2017, he publically criticized the Muslim ban put into place by the then-incoming administration.
That same year, he spoke up about the white supremacist terror attack in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He has been a consistent supporter of Colin Kaepernick, including wearing a #7 jersey to a game.
In 2018, he and his foundation opened up the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
Earlier this year, he spoke up in favor of the right of student-athletes to be compensated for the use of their image and likeness, including supporting the Fair Pay to Play Act passed in California.
He had California Governor Gavin Newsom on “The Shop” to sign the bill.
LeBron’s recent comments about China and the issue of human rights in Hong Kong was a misstep. However, his overall commitment to social issues that are near to him and his willingness to use his platform for that greater good, should be commended.
LeBron James has helped to create a new environment where athletes can feel comfortable in their skin to embrace the politics of self-determination.
He has done that and has won while doing so for a decade.
There are few limits for him, and regardless of how many more years he has on the court, his star will continue to shine.
In the most real sense imaginable, he is more than an athlete.