Leaders must lead: the LeBron James parable

Cleveland is my hometown. I was born and raised in the city, and when I started PR 20/20 in 2005, I opened our office in a historic downtown building overlooking Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, and a block away from Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I have been a die-hard Cleveland sports fan since I was eight years old.

I remember when it started because that was 1986—the year of what simply became known as The Drive. John Elway, the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, broke our hearts that season with a 98-yard drive in the closing minutes of the AFC Championship game. It cost our beloved Cleveland Browns what would have been their first Super Bowl appearance.

We have dealt with countless collapses and close calls since that time, but when Cleveland’s own LeBron James, the self-proclaimed King, was selected with the number-one overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, that was all supposed to change. It would be only a matter of time until Clevelanders basked in the glory of our first professional sports championship in more than four decades, but it was not to be.

The Leader Who Refused to Lead

Shortly before NBA superstar LeBron James infamously took his talents to South Beach in 2010 to join Dwayne Wade’s team, the Miami Heat, he played against the Boston Celtics in one of the most pivotal games in Cleveland Cavaliers franchise history.

The stage was set. Following back-to-back MVP seasons, James was poised to solidify his place as the greatest basketball player— and probably athlete—on Earth, laying the foundation for his legacy as the greatest of all time.

For the first time in his illustrious career, James’ uninspired performances in games five and six left analysts and fans questioning the King’s heart and will to win, and speculating on what happened. All the rumors and injuries aside, the best player in the game did not show up for his team when they needed him most.

The most amazing part was that he did not seem to care. Although it might have been destroying him inside, perception is reality. The competitive fire that burned inside him, after seven years of hearing that he did not have Kobe Byrant’s killer instinct or Michael Jordan’s drive, just appeared to go out. Instead of moving onto the NBA finals, and securing his first ring, James quietly planned for his exit through free agency.

Great Teams Need Great Leaders

As a fan and someone who deeply cares for Cleveland, I was disappointed when James left, but only because I believed he had the ability to be so much more, and do such amazing things for the city. As an entrepreneur, I took a more objective approach and tried to find some relevant meaning in the situation.

Last word

At the end of the day, it is irrelevant how many MVPs and titles James wins in Miami, or if he continues to disappear on the Heat as he did in the 2011 NBA finals. He had the potential to be the greatest of all time, and bring his hometown of Cleveland its first professional championship since 1964. However, when things got hard, he chose to walk away. He was not the leader we all wanted him to be.

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