Why Lebron is the type of “woke” athlete we need

When it comes to dismantling systems, Lebron may not talk the talk but he walks the walk

For me being “woke” isn’t just about being conscious of the injustices around us, it’s also about using that knowledge to actively dismantle an unjust system. Calling out what’s wrong to people in power is great; but in order to create real change, you need to use your existing power to force action. While athletes like Muhammed Ali and Colin Kaepernick have served as mouthpieces for calling out injustice, few athletes have used their status to manipulate and deconstruct the unjust systems they operate in. Ever since he came into the NBA, LeBron James has done nothing but create opportunities for both himself and others around him both on and off the court. Despite what you think of him professionally, LeBron James is the type of “woke” athlete we need.

Not one to be taken for granted

LeBron James gets a lot of hate for no real reason. In an era where people love to catch entertainers doing dumb shit, the most nefarious thing LeBron has ever been accused of is accepting a free Hummer (remember those) given to him as a senior in high school. As a professional, the worst he’s done is announce his departure to another team in an unnecessarily flashy way. But that was his prerogative and everyone watched. If the Kardashians announced with a TV special that they were leaving E! Network for MTV, no one would bat an eye.

On the court, he was able to, at the age of 22 lead the sorry Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA finals on his own. Yes, in the finals the Cavs got swept, but they lost to an all-time great team that was in the middle of winning 5 championships in 16 years. And in order to even get to the finals, they beat the Detroit Pistons, a championship winning team that had been in the finals 2 of the previous 3 years.

Now after this embarrassing loss, LeBron asked the Cavalier’s General Manager to go get better players (you know…asked him to do his job). The next season after virtually no changes were made, a frustrated LeBron, at 23, realized that the reason he couldn’t win in Cleveland was because he had no leverage to convince the owner to  spend the money to get him better players. The assumption was that because he was the hometown hero, he would never leave the Cavaliers. Looking at the situation, he decided to use the only leverage he had which was to wait out till the end of his contract and leave town to find a better situation.

Putting yourself in a position to succeed

But here is where LeBron is not like anyone else. Instead of going to the team that would give him the most money, LeBron met with the other two hottest free agents available and they coordinated to structure their deals in a way where they could all play in the same place for slightly less money. In this sense, LeBron, through his skills as a basketball player, used his talents to become his OWN general manager and assure that he had the proper talent around him. This lead to one of the greatest four year periods any team has ever seen. Finals appearances in all four years resulting in two NBA Championships.

After his 4 year contract was up, LeBron decided to return to Cleveland but now he had tons of leverage since the Cavaliers were constantly the worst team in the NBA while he was gone. This time, LeBron got assurances from the front office that the team would spend the necessary money in order to get championship level talent around him. To make sure the team honored that agreement, he signed a short term deal (2 years) so that if he wasn’t satisfied, he could just walk way again. Within 6 months of LeBron coming back, there had been a complete overhaul of the Cleveland roster. Lebron now had the tools for a successful championship run. Within 2 years of Lebron coming back, he had turned one of the worst teams in the league to an NBA champion. In doing so, Lebron James had, for the second time, coordinated the restructuring of a team that resulted in a championship.

Regardless of how you feel about LeBron, you have to be impressed by his ability to manipulate the system to his advantage. Not since Curt Flood inspired modern free agency in the 1970s has an athlete had such a profound effect on teams’ personnel decisions.

Never forget where you came from

LeBron’s ability to use his basketball talent to make a fortune for himself isn’t why I admire him. Plenty of black people have done that from John H. Johnson with magazines to Madam CJ Walker with black haircare Products. What LeBron James has that is so rare is his ability and determination to make everyone around him better both on the court and off of it.

The three times Lebron joined a new team, that team averaged 17 more wins than the previous season. The two times he left a team, those teams averaged almost 30 more losses the next season and missed the playoffs. Outside of basketball, he has given millions upon millions to various charities throughout his career. Everyone remembers “The Decision” and hates him for it; but not everyone remembers that he did it at the Boys and girls Club of Greenwich, CT and raised 2.5 million dollars for the charity that night.

LeBron skipped college because of his lucrative opportunity to play in the NBA but he is encouraging the kids in his home town of Akron to succeed in school by offering to pay the college tuition of all of the kids in him “I Promise” program through the LeBron James Family Foundation. He has even taken his dedication to education a step farther by planing to work with Akron Public Schools to open the I Promise School in the fall of 2018. Not only does LeBron give back, he establishes  new systems in order to uplift his community. 


If you make it, we all make it

Out of the three women profiled in the movie Hidden Figures, my favorite was Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spenser. In the movie, she is smart and talented enough to recognize no one knows how to use the new IBM computer. She decides to teach herself how to operate it in order to guarantee her a job and probable promotion at NASA. But the best part of the story isn’t that she did good for herself. Dorothy then took her talents and trained up the other black women in her department so that the whole group could share in the success.

What sets LeBron apart from so many other successful people is that he is all about using his personal talents to not only benefit himself, but also improve opportunities for everyone around him. This is true both on the court and off of it. I wish more black people could use their success as a spring board for others. The second we, as a race, learn to leverage our position and power to create more opportunities for our people to succeed, that is went we’ll finally get the respect we deserve.

So stay woke Lebron. Haters creeping.




A Lebron-Jordan aside (not apart of the previous piece but I just wanted to give my opinion)

LeBron haters will say greats like Michael Jordan didn’t have to switch jerseys and join super teams in order to win championships. While Jordan, didn’t switch teams, he developed into a great player because he also used his talent to manage his team’s personnel. Jordan got Doug Collins, his coach at the time, fired in order to bring in Phil Jackson, who he would then win 6 titles with. In 1996, he convinced the team to trade for Dennis Rodman (a future Hall-of-Famer) who would add defense and much needed attitude to the team. In addition to the personal changes, Michael Jordan also had Scottie Pippen, a future Hall-of-Famer who averaged more than 20 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists during the 1.5 years Jordan played baseball (covered in detail in the seminal movie Space Jam). If LeBron had any of what the Bulls provided MJ (all-star caliber teammates, a savy GM and good coach) maybe he would have stayed and won that championship during his first run with the Cavs. But he didn’t, and went off to create a championship team for himself. I’m not saying LeBron is better, I’m just saying Jordan didn’t win 6 championships on pure basketball skills.

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