A lesson in mending relationships
LeBron James' return to Cleveland an act of forgiveness we rarely see in sports
During the news conference after Game 4 of the NBA Finals, LeBron James said that he didn't soul-search. That's a lie.
In order for LeBron to do what he did and return to his roots -- and play for an owner who publicly called him " cowardly," "narcissistic," "a self-titled former 'King' " in his response to LeBron's public act of leaving -- there had to be some soul-searching involved. Something of this magnitude cannot be done without it.
When Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert made the move to fly to South Beach and seek forgiveness, and LeBron opened the door and also asked for forgiveness for the role he played in causing such a breach of faith, they presented a modern day act of showing the power of forgiveness that we rarely see in sports or life. Especially between an owner and someone who works both for and with him.
Their display (and the impact) of forgiveness should not be limited to them. It should force us all to take this moment and look inward -- at our own beefs, personal hatred and angst, relationships with people who were once close but that have gone bad, etc. -- and see what making amends really looks and feels like. And why change of thought is often more powerful than pride and belief.
For months, especially the two days leading up to the reconciliation, I'd been publicly advocating for LeBron to never go back down that road, to never put on a Cavs uniform again until either Gilbert was no longer the owner or until LBJ Inc. became owner of the team. I went so far as to go on ESPN's "First Take" and say I'd lose all respect for LeBron (and a lot of respect for his wife if she was trying to persuade him into returning home) if he'd even think about playing for the Cavs under the same circumstances that existed when he left. I wanted him to be (still) just as mad at Gilbert as I was. I wanted LeBron to leverage his power in their relationship with anger -- something I had more of than he. The emails and Facebook messages got ugly.
• "As you can see ... when upset bad things are said. LJ and wife should not forgive you for ur insults yesterday. U criticized Gilbert...glass house."
• "Dan Gilbert is a great owner that does a lot for CLE and DET.... he's helped revitalize downtown. You and [JA] Adande were so wrong about him it's laughable...and shameful"
• "Offensive comments about cleveland, very uneasy, real personal, abrupt reaction, why so mean against the city?"
• "The hypocrisy coming from you and [Freddie] Coleman is unreal. You all have ripped black athletes for doing the same before doing anything at the pro level. Also, you were out of line with your comments to LeBron's wife. That was classless."
Once the entire story came out, of how the whole thing unfolded, it made me look at back at my stance and beliefs and recognize how wrong I was. About Gilbert. About LeBron. About myself. If LeBron can say, as he did in his SI.com essay, "who am I to hold a grudge?" then in what position am I to hold one on his behalf? Sometimes even a 30-year-old kid can teach a 50-year-old how to be a man.
What Gilbert and James have done is give us all a template of how we need to move forward and not become victims and prisoners of our own lives and our own hang-ups.
There is a difference between being wrong and being proven wrong. In this situation I am a classic product of the latter. For someone who can be "too black" for my own or anyone else's good, this turned out to be one of those times. The whole ownership/player dynamic -- especially in light of Donald Sterling's beliefs and most owners not publicly separating themselves from him or his comments -- had me locked into a "Forty Million Dollar Slaves" mode and mentality. Which, when necessary, is a respectable place to be, but can become a place of total isolation.
The beauty of being wrong or proven wrong means you have the capability to re-evaluate, not just the situation at hand but often yourself.
We'd have known this day was coming, if we'd paid attention to Derek Jeter when he wrote about LeBron as one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in 2013. "Most people in LeBron's position aren't as grounded as he is. He hasn't forgotten where he comes from, and he's given back so much to Ohio and Akron, his hometown. LeBron cares deeply about these places, and that says a lot about him."
At some point, even at LeBron's level of supremacy, while you are playing you have to have a greater amount of pride for what the front of your jersey reads than what it says on the back. Trying to strive for excellence while deep down wanting to be someplace else is the first step toward never reaching greatness and never finding joy in the sport you dedicated your life to.
The reason I said LeBron must have soul-searched comes from his own words. They show an understanding of what's important that comes only from self-knowledge:
"I live too much in the moment. I can't worry about what goes on after this series is over with -- win, lose or draw. I live [for] now and worry about the future once it's upon me. ... Understanding what's important and what's not important allows me to kind [of] just live in the moment, and not focus on what's happened in the past. I can't control the past and redo it. I can live in the present and try to affect the future. And live with the results while I'm in it."
And those results led to atonement.
The standard definition of forgiveness suggests that its primary purpose is the re-establishment of a relationship broken by wrong. It was recently written by Thomas Lake that in certain forms of forgiveness someone wounds you and, in time, comes to see what damage he has done. He then returns to lay the crime at your feet and when you reach down to pull him up, a sort of charge passes between you, a cleansing that refreshes both souls.
LeBron James knew long before he made those above comments that his return would come one day. He even admitted as much in his essay. He knew this would come because he had thought deeply about it. He stepped outside of his personal way of thinking. He stopped living for the moment and for himself. He opened up his heart, his mind, his pride. He forgave. The cleansing passed through him. He chose to live beyond the moment he happened to be in.
And with one decision to return home, he taught me how to do the same.