I’ve been there through it all.
Anyone who knows me in the slightest knows that I’m a die-hard heat fan. Besides perhaps Blue’s Clues or Dexter’s Laboratory (“Oooh! What does THAT button do?”), my first memories of watching television are of watching the Miami Heat draft Dwyane Wade out of Marquette University “with the 5th pick of the 2003 NBA Draft” (that last part being said with the voice of former commissioner David Stern’s dry voice in my head).
I witnessed Lamar Odom play in a Miami Heat uniform, back when he was better known for playing basketball than for marrying Khloe Kardashian. Later that year, he was traded to the L.A. Lakers along with Caron Butler and Brian Grant (remember those names, bandwagon fans? Didn’t think so.) for The Big Diesel, Shaquille O’Neal. Shortly afterwards, the Heat finally won their first title, with Wade averaging Jordan-esque numbers in order to slay the Dallas Mavericks after falling behind two games to none before winning four straight in 2006. I was at that championship parade.
I remember sitting in my dad’s living room as Lebron James announced “The Decision”, an event that will go down as one of the biggest snafus in free agency announcement history for everyone in the world except South Floridians, where that moment remains one of the happiest in Miami sports history. I cringed when we lost to the Mavs in 2011, and felt for Lebron as he suffered the biggest media backlash known to mankind for “choking” in the Finals.
I also watched, jaw dropped to the floor, the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, where Lebron, outfitted with the scariest death-stare you could ever imagine, scored 30 points in the first half alone against the Boston Celtics in Game 6 to stave off elimination and save his legacy. I celebrated again in South Beach with hundreds of thousands of fans after we won in 2012, and watched Ray Allen’s unforgettable three-pointer against the San Antonio Spurs in 2013 live from my cell phone in a San Francisco BART station (of course, cheering at the top of my lungs in sheer joy with no regards to anyone else around me waiting for the train). And, most recently, I remember slouching in my seat at a restaurant in the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport as I witnessed the Heat lose to the Spurs in the latest NBA Finals.
What die-hard Heat fans will tell you, along with basketball aficionados alike, is that, while we are disappointed to lose Lebron to free agency, we are also extremely grateful to have watched one of the game’s all-time greats play in our team’s uniform night-in and night-out for four memorable years. I don’t think that will truly settle in until long after Lebron walks away from the game in a decade or so.
What I can also say is that there are a lot of lessons to learn from Lebron in regards to “The Decision” 2.0, particularly from his letter in Sports Illustrated in which he told the world about his return home. Here’s why Lebron’s letter is actually a success manifesto to be emulated and modelled after.
1) He Surrounded Himself With The Best Talent
When Lebron wanted to write a letter to the world making his decision about free agency known once and for all, he did so with the help of Lee Jenkins, one of the most acclaimed sports reporters in the world. Jenkins received high praise from the 15 other on-air journalists for ESPN who broke the story, all of whom would have loved to be the first to report such breaking news.
In his open letter, James also acknowledged that the reason he came to Miami in the first place was to play with top talent like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and we saw the success that decision resulted in (2 MVPs, 2 rings, 4 trips to the NBA Finals, and an Olympic Gold medal). In Cleveland, he will certainly look to continue that trend, and the team has already begun making moves to acquire players like Kevin Love to surround James with winning pieces now.
Kudos to Lebron for surrounding himself with top talent, both on and off the court, over the last few years, and it serves as a great business lesson to the rest of us.
2) He Learned From His Mistakes
The first one-and-a-half years Lebron James was in a Miami Heat uniform were disastrous from a PR standpoint, starting with his primetime TV announcement that he was “taking his talents to South Beach” (such sweet, sweet words even now). As he has recovered from being public enemy #1 in the NBA four years ago (and has now arguably become the most lovable sports figure we have today), he has learned from his mistakes and has matured greatly. This time around, he kept things under wraps until he was ready to make his announcement, and then did so in humble and calculated fashion in his Sports Illustrated letter.
Lesson to all leaders out there – learn from your mistakes, and use those teachings to showcase your growth when given the opportunity. Everyone around you, from your employees to your co-workers, friends, family, followers, and fans, will respect you greatly for your growth in maturity.
3) He Didn’t Burn Any Bridges
Both in his letter and in his actions the past few days, Lebron was very sensitive to the key relationships he had built in Miami over the last four years. He met with the other two members of the former “Big Three” at the onset of free agency in order to give them first consideration in this entire process. He made sure to meet with Heat leadership face-to-face to hear their proposal and give them the respect they deserve. He even consulted Wade man-to-man on a long flight back to Miami from Las Vegas, where I’m sure the two of them discussed this move and what it would mean for their friendship.
In his letter, he wisely thanked Heat owner Micky Arison and Heat President Pat Riley for their time together over the past four years, and cited that the relationships he built here were near-and-dear to his heart. For us, we should use this as a lesson for times in life when we need to leave a job, end a relationship, reject a business deal, or otherwise have to part ways with those we become close to. There is a way to leave something or someone respectably, and Lebron James showed us exactly how to do so.
4) He Began Planting Seeds For Future Success Without Sacrificing For Today
Lebron does this in multiple ways with his decision to return to Cleveland, as well as in his letter. He’s returning to a young team that has the potential to keep a core nucleus of players intact for years and years to come, yet already have enough talent to contend for a championship this season and is already looking to add more talent and experience to the roster to try and win now.
With his brand, he secures current sponsorships and momentum by making this “fairy-tale” return reminiscent of Michael Jordan coming back to the Chicago Bulls from early retirement, while also providing the opportunity to cash in on future success and storylines that may come with potentially producing rings for the championship-starved city of Cleveland. Finally, in his letter, he already began to acknowledge some of his team teammates, which will go a long way towards building chemistry for his team come tip-off of the 2014-2015 NBA season.
In business, if you can “cover your nut” today while planting seeds for future success, you’re already doing a pretty good job of managing your time and potential opportunities.
5) He Showed Us That He Was The Bigger Man
It would be easy for Lebron to hold a grudge against Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who wrote a nasty letter to James after his departure from Cleveland in 2010. It would be easy for Lebron to be angry at the Cavs fans who burned his jersey in the streets just minutes after he announced his decision to play in Miami and violently booed him at every reunion between the two teams over the last four years.
It would be easy for him to hate the media, who took every rumor of the last ten days and blew them up to epic proportions. However, all of that said, he put the past behind him, especially in his relationship with Dan Gilbert, in order to make the biggest impact possible for his hometown with his choice of returning. That’s not the easiest thing to do, yet that type of class is what epitomizes true success more than any paycheck, job title, or investment ever will. Well done Lebron.
6) He Acted With A Higher Purpose In Mind
While Lebron is undoubtedly the best basketball player on the planet today, this was not solely a basketball decision for him. As you can read in his letter, he acted with a higher purpose in mind, knowing that he was in a position to profoundly impact an entire city’s future for decades to come.
Not only can he potentially deliver a sports championship to a city that hasn’t had one in 50 years, but he sets a standard for hundreds of thousands of Ohio natives, from the 3rd graders currently growing up there to the adults who’ve moved on to other parts of the world, that Cleveland is a great place to live and a sound place to invest your professional and familial future in.
Lebron understands his impact in revitalizing his hometown, and understands the long-term ramifications his return can have on the city’s economy, growth, and collective psyche long after he hangs up his jersey. While we should all make decisions that benefit us today, we should also constantly be cognisant of our higher purposes in life and align our actions accordingly with our “calling” wherever possible.
It has been an absolute pleasure watching one of the greatest players of all-time play for my favorite NBA team the last four years, and as disappointed as Heat fans may be with Lebron’s decision to return to Cleveland, we should all be appreciative of the lessons he can teach us. He is certainly a class act, and his letter in Sports Illustrated should serve as a success manifesto for anyone looking to “make it big” in life (including all the former bandwagon Heat fans who instantaneously became bandwagon Cavalier fans upon hearing his announcement).
Thank you, Lebron. See you next year.