LeBron James and Christian Discipleship
For those living on another planet: LeBron James is a basketball player. He is 25 years old and for the past six years, since his graduation from high school in Akron, Ohio, he has played for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Between his contract with the Cavaliers and endorsements for the likes of Nike, he has earned hundreds of millions of dollars.
LeBron has been a remarkable player for the Cavaliers. His all-star and MVP awards are too many to count. His team has become a contender and a bright spot in an otherwise dismal city. But the Cavaliers have not won an NBA title even with LeBron James in the line-up.
Last night LeBron James announced that he was leaving Cleveland and the Cavaliers to play for the Miami Heat. The decision comes as part of the NBA’s free-agency system. James could have stayed in Cleveland and made $30 million more than he would make anywhere else (that’s how the system works). But Cleveland is not New York or Miami and the bidding was intense. The phrase “billion-dollar player” was bandied about as endorsements and appearance fees in cities more glamorous than Cleveland were added in.
So LeBron James decided to leave the dreary city that adored him, not far from where he grew up, for the Sun Coast.
Across the sports world – and beyond – LeBron James is being portrayed as the ultimate traitor. “He’s a Villain” declares one headline. “Loyalty in sports is dead,” wrote a columnist. The owner of the Cavaliers has posted a letter on the team website calling James’ decision “cowardly betrayal.” “LeBron James plunged a crass dagger into the hearts of northeast Ohioans,” writes a blogger on a soccer website. And, yes, you will get a number of results if you google LeBron James and Judas Iscariot.
You get the point.
In his press conference last night, James claimed his decision was not about money. I believe him. He could make a zillion dollars playing anywhere. He said it was about the chance to be on a team that might win the league title. “That’s the only reason we play this game, to win championships,” he said.
And so you leave the city that adored you, the fans who loved you, the place that finally began to believe it might have a future because of you, rusty northeast Ohio that nurtured you and believed in you, because the only reason to play the game is to win championships?
They sometimes call them the hard sayings of Jesus. Among them:
- If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:26
- Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All people will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. – Matthew 10:21-22
- He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Luke 9:59-60
- If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. – John 15:18
And then there is the Apostle Paul:
One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13b-14
Sounds like “That’s the only reason we play this game, to win championships” to me.
You get the point.
Okay, LeBron James and his decision to abandon Cleveland may not be the best analogy to Christian discipleship, but there’s something there. How important is the championship to us?