NBA most valuable player LeBron James gave a particularly introspective interview recently to ESPN’s Chris Broussard.
James said he frequently watches video of Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan when Jordan was the best player in the game. Lack of fear is what James observed as Jordan’s greatest strength:
“I watch Jordan more than anybody, for sure MJ wasn’t perfect. MJ had bad games. He had turnovers. He had games where he felt like he should have been better. But I think the greatest thing about MJ was that he never was afraid to fail,” James said.
“And I think that’s why he succeeded so much, because he was never afraid of what anybody ever said about him. Never afraid to miss a game-winning shot, never afraid to turn the ball over. Never afraid.
“That’s one of my biggest obstacles. I’m afraid of failure. I want to succeed so bad that I become afraid of failing.”
I think James is right that Jordan’s disinterest in others’ expectations of him was a big part of his persona. What wasn’t said – and perhaps should be – is that if James feels pressure from others’ expectations, he helped bring that on himself.
Jordan, for whatever his flaws, under-promised and over-delivered. The frenzy that surrounded him was seldom of his making. Of course he had/has a huge ego, but he didn’t go around broadcasting how great he was. He didn’t have to or care to.
Maybe this is a generational thing – no thought sits unstated on Twitter these days – but James has been different. Before he even left high school he accepted this “Chosen One” label.
The hype was justified, but it wasn’t necessarily healthy. I remember attending a press conference after one of his high school games in Greensboro, and thinking no one can be packaged this way as a teenager and turn out normal.
So then he decides to leave Cleveland for Miami – an understandable choice no matter what Cavaliers fans think – and he makes the regrettable decision to turn his announcement into a one-hour infomercial. Then he amplifies that mistake by counting off how many rings he’d win at a Heat pep rally.
You can say all that was youthful excess, and you would be right. But when an athlete sets such a high and public bar for himself, is it any wonder James would admit to a fear of failure and envy Jordan’s tunnel-vision focus?
I’m not criticizing James. We all make miscalculations, some of them more public than others. I feel bad for him that he’s created a perception that any season that doesn’t end in a parade means he under-achieved.