Callum Borchers' Blog

Sociologically significant sports (and class assignments)

Wondering whether LeBron understands his own significance

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Is LeBron James really selfish, or is he a sociologist in sneakers? (Photo by Widimedia Commons)

Does he get it? Throughout the entire dramatic course of LeBron James’ free agency — and, especially, after “The Decision” — that has been the incessant question dribbling around my brain.

LeBron and his new Miami Heat teammates, including coveted free-agent signings Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, visit TD Garden tonight to play the Celtics in the most eagerly anticipated NBA opener I can remember. It’s the New Big Three vs. the Old Big Three. It’s also, as 98.5 The Sports Hub‘s Scott Zolak put it, “Take a Leak on LeBron Day.”

Indeed, sports commentators will undoubtedly devote large portions of their days to rehashing the bashing, decrying LeBron’s selfishness and egotism.

And maybe they’re right to do so. I’ve never met LeBron. Perhaps he’s as self-absorbed as they say he is.

But what if LeBron gets it? What if he’s a sociologist in sneakers? Consider what New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden, author of “40 Million Dollar Slaves,” wrote the day after LeBron took his talents to South Beach: “What James did throughout the entire process — forcing a parade of billionaire owners to make presentations and brokering a TV special — was an unprecedented act of muscle flexing. This was reminiscent of Muhammad Ali, at least in terms of showmanship. The process was also part Curt Flood, taking the concept of ‘free’ agency to its outermost limit.”

For months, a 25-year-old black man without a college credit on his resume held some of the most powerful people — white people — in sports hostage. LeBron was in control on a level no athlete has reached before.

While plenty of black athletes have made millions, they have generally achieved wealth without achieving power. As you travel up the athletic food chain, from players to coaches to executives to owners, complexions get lighter and lighter.

LeBron’s free agency turned upside down the “black labor, white power” paradigm Rhoden describes in his book. Considering the history of sports in this country — heck, considering the history of this country, period — his “muscle flexing” was sociologically momentous.

And I wonder whether Lebron gets it.

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Written by callumborchers

October 26, 2010 at 8:53 am

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