The Summer’s 3 Most Important People

LeBron James: The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority (Kenneth Blanchard)

Peculiarly, the third NBA title tying LeBron with friend Dwyane Wade is the footnote to his summer, one in which he laid back, sat out the Olympic team, became the highest paid player in the NBA, was active on social media regarding race and justice issues, and is openly lobbying for J.R. Smith to return to Cleveland. Over time, LeBron has won over his critics but he has not changed one bit. He cares deeply about the kids of Akron, he loves his friends, he is the most dominant player in the NBA, he cemented himself in Cleveland lore, and his talents, leading to his achievements, have put him in a continuing argument of top 5 all time.

LeBron has risen to dominant heights because of his very unique skill set but also because he is not afraid of public critique. He is willing to fail. He is willing to lose. He is willing to be booed. If not for LeBron going to Miami, Kevin Durant may still be in Oklahoma City.

Russell Westbrook: There’s something wrong with your character if opportunity controls your loyalty.

In the shadow of “friend” Kevin Durant leaving town without a goodbye other than an insufficient text message, Westbrook’s fate had him in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Miami and Chicago, all NBA championship cities. Westbrook could have ended his Oklahoma marriage too. That the Southern California native decided to stay put in Oklahoma and continue to build upon what he and Durant built (but what Durant couldn’t wait to escape without a thank you) was a window peek into the soul of Russell Westbrook. He doesn’t run. He stays. He’s loyal. He doesn’t turn his back on his people. To many, it makes him better than Durant, of higher character, but as gratifying as that may seem to the generous people of Oklahoma- the good son stayed-that is too simplistic of a characterization. Behavior is always complicated and rooted in subtleties.

Westbrook staying in a small market that has never won a title is important as a visual, even as the Thunder are his best shot at winning. Small markets struggle to keep elite talent. Tim Duncan has always been perceived as an anomaly. The Westbrook NBA narrative has always been of a fearless competitor who will do crazy things in crunch time that make you want to cover your eyes. His reputation because of his continued commitment to the Thunder is only enhanced by his willingness to carry a team to the promised land and not quit.

Carmelo AnthonyThe  dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do it for them. (Lois McMaster Bujold)

For much of his career, Carmelo Anthony has been both adored and maligned. The greatest pure shooter of his generation is seen as incapable of leadership, defense, and pushing teammates to places of discomfort in order to achieve. But this summer was one in which Carmelo set all his basketball narratives aside and took the lead in elevating himself as a professional athlete by speaking up about injustice and the need for elite professional athletes to move out of their material comfort zone and be part of the solution for peace.

In the 1968 sanitation workers strike, Memphis protesters carried signs that read, “I Am A Man”, a declarative statement to Memphis and the world that they were treated as children, not men, denied basic rights. It was that strike that prompted a visit from the Reverend Martin Luther King. In Memphis, King gave his infamous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech and the next day was executed.

Nearly 50 years after the Memphis garbage men strike, Carmelo Anthony, through a series of posts via social media outlets, expressed his frustration, anger and helplessness, as murders of black men by police were highlighted via video, and, Carmelo saw his fellow athletes doing very little (if anything) to create a bridge from violence to police.

Carmelo correctly identified the American system of justice as broken and threw shade on all the marching  As unifying as marching can be, it won’t solve anything. Carmelo gave an emotional plea for his fellow athletes (who have financial and emotional capital) to speak truth to power and apply pressure. He begged other athletes to join him and demand change.


photo via llananba