The Finals and Me, Me, Me


Lebron-James-Miami-Heat.jpgGenerally speaking, Plugged In doesn’t wade into the happenings of the sports world. Occasionally, though, something happens in that realm that’s worthy of our scrutiny. And a story that played out earlier this week offers a fascinating example of a trend that’s increasingly prevalent in our culture, the trend toward narcissism.

Like millions of others this week, I found myself riveted by the drama playing out in the NBA Finals, where the Dallas Mavericks upended the Miami Heat. The Heat, of course, are led by the vaunted LeBron James. Even if you don’t pay much attention to sports, there’s a good chance that you heard about LeBron’s exodus from Cleveland last year to join the Heat, along with a couple of other marquee superstars. LeBron, labeled by some as the most physically talented pro basketball player in history, promised multiple championships … and became one of the most despised athletes in recent memory in the process. When he failed to deliver on his lofty promises, his critics—lots of them—savored the opportunity to pounce.

Instead of expressing anything approximating humility in the wake of losing the title, though, LeBron wasted little time before launching a vitriol-infused volley back at all the “haters” out there during the post-game press conference.

“All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today,” James said. “They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”

Many (if not most) sportswriters have interpreted James’ comments as saying, in essence, My life’s still awesome but yours stinks. ESPN commentator Tim Keown was among several who called James on the carpet for being a world-class narcissist.

We've somehow become accustomed to the idea that athletes—especially self-aggrandizing narcissists like James—consider the world's rank-and-file to be losers of the first order. Everyone is beneath him, therefore the most severe verbal retaliation he can summon in his worst moment is to draw attention to the difference between his life and the lives of those who question him. In other words: those sad, pathetic, diminutive lives led by everyone else.

Keown then took things one interesting step further, connecting the dots between LeBron’s self-centered comments and the general trend toward narcissism in our society as a whole (a trend I recently wrote about here).

James is the perfect case study of the I'm-Somebody-And-You're-Not phenomenon. He came of age in what might become known as The Entitlement Generation. I have a friend who owns a company that hires many recent college graduates, and he says the self-esteem of the 22- to 28-year-old set is both astounding and misguided. They've been raised to believe they should be overflowing with personal pride—not a horrible concept in moderation—and they've passed the elementary-school classes to prove it. They've grown up in a world of parents who worship them rather than discipline them, and they've rarely been given honest, frank assessments of their talents. Everybody is good at everything, nobody loses, nobody fails, nobody should be called to account for their inadequacies. James is the phenomenon in the fun-house mirror.

James is, I’ll admit, right about one thing. He—and myriad other professional athletes—do live in a world of privilege. And plenty insulates them from realities most of the rest of us have to grapple with on a daily basis. It’s a recipe for self-centeredness, for living in an out-of-touch bubble.

That said, plenty of top-flight players from previous generations still managed to display class and humility, in both victory and in defeat. What’s the difference now? As Keown noted, LeBron and others like him have come of age in a time that, more than ever before, focuses on me, me, me.

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Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  chelle:

what have they done for the Community - I'm sure they've done plenty. Let's remember good works are good....but works alone doesn't get you very far,especially not into Heaven. I doesn't matter in this discussion what they've done for the community,because even that breeds pride and narcissim. Like doing charity events,is making him all of a sudden not shelfish. How does Lebron figure I'm going go back to my supposedly not so great life...maybe I have a better life than him. How does he Know...he doesn't he just assumes. him losing....him doing anything doesn't make my life happier/sadder...he just doesn't get it. actually basketball is a trivial thing in my life and doesn't make or break me. and I wasn't rooting for him to loose,I was rooting for Dirk (and his team) to win. Cuz they've never won & play their hearts out...true competition. Miami has won before. and Yes what person responds to "haters" if they aren't bothered by it. if they aren't a sore loser. I'm not a sports nut and even I can tell Lebron is just a sore loser...he's just like a lil kid saying...yeah..well well....I'm going back to my manison I don't care if I lost I don't live in a normal house like you kids nenner nenner. so silly. and as he walks away does the mature thing (yeah right) and sticks his tounge out at you. He just forgets that.. no one on the playground wants a kid who looks down on everybody for a friend. Dirk seems like he'd not be so catty with his "haters" as he'd probably just ignore them as he doesn't need to brag about his fortune and fame.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  ...:

You mean he's no Ryan Giggs.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Greg71:

As an Ohio native who only lives 2 hours from Cleveland, I experienced the negatism and disappointment of Cavalier fans firsthand. Most people weren't so mad at James for leaving Cleveland as they were for the way he did it, with the whole "The Decision" spectacle. Personally, I was disappointed as he was Cleveland's best hope for winning a title in any sport, despite being swept by the Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals. I didn't hate on him, though, as that is an unnecessary waste of energy.

Let's not forget this year's Miami Heat team was put together in response to the Boston Celtics superstar teamup of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen (although Rajon Rondo became the real star), that did win a title the first year it was put together, and fought to a tough game 7 against the Lakers in last year's NBA Finals.

Lebron has been the subject of criticism from the NBA community all year. Everything he does gets scrutinized to a microscopic level. Triple-double? Not enough. He still needs to do more to help his team win. He's still pretty young and I'm sure later on he'll mature past the point of "needing to" criticize his critics. I'm not excusing his behavior but for the most part he's been a class act. He's certainly no Dennis Rodman.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Stephen:

So Lebron James for the third year in a row refurbished an old gym in LA.  Other than putting people down on your website, what have you done for the community?

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  andy3193:

Adam, excellent article. You absolutely hit it right on top of the head. As a sports fanatic, particularly in football and basketball, I agree with you. Lebron is extremely arrogant and his comments came across as I'm rich and your not. I think thats how most people took it that way because of his actions a year ago with Cleveland and his infamous ESPN TV spot, "The Decision." Lebron has been told how great he is all his life and it is evident in the comments he made after Game 6. Dirk is a prime example of if you do it the right way you will be rewarded in the end. Lebron is the prime example of there are no shortcuts in life and you are no better then the rest of us.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

Let me start by admitting that I'm biased. I'm a Celtic fan but since they lost the Eastern Semi-finals, I began rooting for LeBron James. I'm sad that they lost because I really hoped the win would shut up his detractors.

Let's be honest here, most of the people that are hoping for James' failure are those that weren't happy with his leaving Cleveland for Miami, or the way he went about it. I think that people should get over it. It's HIS career and he has the final say in what he wants to do with it.

Secondly, I find it curious that some people are singling out James as a narcissist...aren't all celebrities narcissistic? Moreover, they have every reason to be: they're all multi-millionaires, 99.9% of us are never going to be superstars- I accept that and I'm okay with it. Moreover, he never said the words that ''oh, your life is pathetic/sad and look at me, i'm a superstar''...other people are deducing that from his statement (which i contend is open to interpretation).

I find it ironic that in this country where people are so obsessed with their celebrities and wanting to know every single (dirty) detail of their lives, you have (the same) people who turn around and despise them for their feeling of entitlement. I would argue that we had a hand putting them up on that pedestal, and if not, many of them worked really hard to get where they are; so they can gloat about it all they want!

Frankly, I think what James was saying is that people would laugh and make fun of him now but eventually they would move on with their lives (as he would); and that whatever gratification they get from it would later prove to be fleeting.