Lebron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers this week, agreeing to terms with the Miami Heat and becoming the finishing touch on what Dwyane Wade called “arguably the greatest trio ever to play basketball” (what’s that sound? Oh right, it’s Magic, Kareem, and James Worthy, the actual greatest trio to play basketball. The Oscar Peterson Trio retains the overall top spot…SORRY BEAUX ARTS!). The uproar over the decision (sorry, I meant The Decision) has been vociferous, and has even managed to get Jesse Jackson involved, which he is so rarely wont to do. Everyone has an opinion on James and his legacy, and most of them aren’t particularly good opinions. I, on the other hand, appreciate the very simple statement James has made with his decision: I am what I am.
Lebron could have stayed in Cleveland, played the local hero role, prayed to God that somehow a supporting cast that without him is likely to finish with one of the three worst records in the league would have somehow improved despite being up against the cap with the like of Mo Williams and Delonte West, and possibly brought a title to a city that doesn’t have much going for it in the way of sports.
Lebron could have gone to New York, where the rest of the team is at least better than Cleveland, but where the exposure is the greatest. Winning a couple titles in New York is like winning seven somewhere else…mostly because New Yorkers think they are 3.5 times more important than the rest of the United States.
Lebron could have gone to Chicago and played with a rising star PG in Derrick Rose and an intimidating front line with Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. This probably would have been the best chance to win oodles of championships, but the shadow of Michael Jordan looms as large as the ego of Michael Jordan.
These three ideas share one thing in common: a vision of Lebron James as the unquestioned pack leader. The supreme force on a team that would win several titles with James as its alpha dog, and thus cement his place among the elite players in the history of the game. There was but one flaw in this entire utopian vision of basketball Godhood…
It wasn’t Lebron James’ vision.
Because of his incredibly prodigious gifts, we assigned Lebron his role as the alpha dog on a title team. We said he was the player to lead Team X to a dynastic run atop the NBA. We said he was going to go down as one of the all-time greats.
Perhaps that’s not the truth as Lebron sees it.
Perhaps Lebron’s truth is that he doesn’t want to be the lead dog, but just wants to be a key cog in the machine. Perhaps he didn’t hone his skills to re-write basketball’s history books, but to be paid incredibly well for his time. Perhaps he doesn’t want to save sports in Cleveland, or own New York, or live up to Michael’s legacy, but bang gorgeous half-Cuban women in the bathrooms at clubs I wouldn’t be able to get into even if I were a janitor there.
And that’s fine. He knows who he is.
How lovely it would be if some of classical music’s finest performers would take a cue from James.
There is a difference between a conductor and a great musician who stands on the box in front of the band. I’ll never forget listening to a broadcast of the Pittsburgh Symphony a few years ago in which Andres Cardenes, Pittsburgh’s concertmaster and one of the finest violinists around, was conducting. They interviewed him and asked him about conducting the PSO, and he said something to the effect of, “It’s so wonderful to conduct an orchestra of this caliber, so I don’t have to work out the kinks.”
Any asshole can stand in front of a group of world-class musicians and seem like a God damn genius while they plow through Tschiakovsky 4 for the 100th time. That’s not conducting. That’s dancing to live music.
The world of conducting is littered with musicians of extraordinary ability who seem unable to embrace what they are. Placido Domingo, James Galway, Pinchas Zukerman, the aforementioned Cardenes, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Heinz Holliger, etc. have all taken the plunge and drowned on the mediocrity. Even much more established names like Barenboim, Ashkenazy, and Eschenbach tend to produce strikingly “meh” results. At best a mixed bag. At worst they win look-alike contests for Bruce Wayne, moustache-less Victor Borge, and Yul Brynner 36 hours after his death, respectively.
Kenny Rogers, who used to know what he is, tells us we have to know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run. Never count our money when we’re sitting at the table. How to make delicious roasted chicken. Knowing is the thing. Knowing is everything.
Lebron James knows what he is. I wish these amazing performers did, too.