LeBron James chose to sign as a free agent with the Miami Heat and in doing so made himself public enemy number one to basketball fans in Cleveland and anywhere else outside of south Florida. Much of the criticism of James’ decision focused on the idea that he was supposed to be loyal to his “hometown” team: the Cavaliers, and the idea that he was supposed to want to vanquish any and all rivals instead of joining forces. James’ decision cemented, to many, the fact that he would never be thought of as a truly transcendent player.
LeBron essentially assessed the probability of ultimately being successful, which at this stage of his career means winning a championship, and concluded that to maximize his chances meant to team up with another star player in their athletic prime. Generally the criticism of James is not aimed at his assessment of the Cavaliers’ championship mettle, many sportswriters and commentators concede that the team was in contention each year only because of LeBron James. The criticism of James was aimed at his apparent lack of the most competitive of mindsets that would mandate he accept no help.
That competitive mindset may well be hard wired into our American DNA. It takes a certain kind of mentality to leave the known world and decide to establish a civilization in a largely unknown area, yet that is the story of the settling of the first American colonies. It takes a certain mentality to decide to expand into unknown areas even when such expansion would be in conflict with the indigenous population that outnumbers you and is assumed to be hostile, yet that is the story of westward expansion by Americans across the North American continent. It takes a certain mentality to declare that no European power may colonize an entire hemisphere, particularly when your military force is not capable of preventing such colonization; yet that is the story of the Monroe Doctrine. It takes a certain mentality to assume the position of world leader and declare that American forces would meet any communist threat all over the globe, yet that is the story of the Truman Doctrine.
Throughout American history those are the stands we took in each case shunning help as we assumed somewhat belligerent stances toward those around us. And in each case things worked out and reinforced this American method of contending with rivals. Perhaps this mentality is so ingrained in our national psyche that it is part of what it means to be American. Consequently there is outrage that LeBron James would not display this mentality in the way he plays out his career; in choosing to go to Miami James was being downright un-American.
However that headstrong mentality proved to be a detriment over the course of the Cold War as the United States found its troops in two military operations in Asia that eventually led to compromise. More recently President Bush displayed that mentality in pursuing military action in Iraq and Afghanistan by a coalition of forces in which American soldiers would make up the bulk of the troops. This mentality led to an overreaching commitment of the American military based on faulty intelligence.
Consequently President Obama has pursued a different course of action vis-à-vis foreign policy. Essentially he is attempting to redefine the terms on which the country can claim success in international relations. Victory, as defined as the meeting of goals beneficial to the United States, can be achieved by diplomacy rather than by shows of force.
Those that criticize James for the decision he made are operating in the same outdated logic of the Cold War era that President Bush was. James is pursuing a different course of action by disregarding the conventional wisdom that mandates a player of his caliber attempt to win as the main and perhaps only all-star on the team. James is attempting to redefine how we view success in the NBA in the same way Obama is attempting to do so in foreign policy.
The problem is that both of them are going against centuries of American tradition. Perhaps it is time for Americaness to not be so tied into the headstrong mentality. After all a win is a win, whether it is achieved with or without assistance.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.