Definition of dilemma from Merriam Webster: A situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones. Although some commentators insist that dilemma be restricted to instances in which the alternatives to be chosen are equally unsatisfactory, their concern is misplaced; the unsatisfactoriness of the options is usually a matter of how the author presents them. What is distressing or painful about a dilemma is having to make a choice one does not want to make.
Lebron James’ decision to stay or leave Cleveland has been portrayed by most everyone in a negative light. In fact, it seems truer than ever that the media seems to portray most dilemma’s in a biased interpretation. Much of our society takes “a negative attitude” as we see in the work place, the party or with acquaintances. But the Lebron James story is so unique because everyone weighing in on the subject has a bias.
As a lifelong Clevelander, I have a bias. Thirty years in the financial industry, a lover of sports, and a Midwesterner raised with a family value structure that so many in the country sometimes see, but many times are not familiar. It resonates among us. It is a regionality thing. When someone yells “OH” very few of us don’t have the response “IO”. When somebody says they are from Cleveland, it extends as far away at Toledo, Youngstown and Columbus. We love our family and our region. We love our heroes from Philanthropists and visionaries like Rockefeller and Ratner, who have put Corporate engines to work, to our sports heroes like Bernie Kosar and Jim Brown who we think of as Clevelanders. We think of them as Clevelanders despite their origin or their future forays.
Youth lesson: Loyalty is worn on Midwesterners’ sleeves and means something.
Lebron James is the same. He is from Cleveland even though he is from Akron. In New York or Los Angeles, a 40-minute drive might be 5 miles away. In Cleveland, the drive to Akron 35 miles away is 40 minutes (even in traffic and orange barrels). Lebron commutes to work. Tell that to a national sport’s media person and you get silence. They don’t get it. The weather in Cleveland is great! No Earthquakes, no hurricanes, no mudslides, land erosion that only comes from a lake that most visitors marvel at its beauty. It snows, and we have four seasons. For that we have bad weather. We drive from attached garages to $10 a day parking lots, adjacent to our offices. Try to get a taxi or Uber in the rain and tell us how great the weather is on the east coast. We get the cold weather and realize it’s time for hunting season with a father or son. We deal with our weather as a temporary inconvenience until our next stop or free parking place.
Youth Lesson: The Midwest is affordable and seems to do just fine getting priorities straight. It’s a great place to affordably live and raise a family.
Lebron James gets this. The high school graduate had his spring break in Miami. He made great friends and seems to have learned a lot. Because of his athletic prowess a lot has come to him and deservedly so. He has captured the country with his gift with the roundball. There might be comparisons in his sport, and others worth comparing to other superstars, but his personality and talent has put him in a position of not only stability and permanent comfort but also into a dilemma that has positive options. Just don’t tell the media. Their biases just don’t get the total picture. Cleveland as an option? Well its Cleveland. In the national media not one article is written of Lebron moving to another Midwest city. The whole Midwest should take exception to this. For everyone outside of the Midwest, there are some things to consider and maybe it reflects why we don’t’ want to move either.
Youth Lesson: Hard work pays off. Being the best at your craft thru perseverance gives you choices.
Yes, Lebron can take his talent most anywhere. There are many teams that won’t be considered. They don’t have the talent, management or money to afford Lebron. There are problems in Cleveland and there are problems at most franchises. Management at times in Cleveland seems at times fixated with other issues and sidebars. But Dan Gilbert has done some very impressive renaissance moves in Detroit and Cleveland. So has Lebron with the youth in his home city and the region. Now he might think of how he can scale this. It is important to him. His whole infrastructure is in Cleveland. He can not replicate this elsewhere. He cannot move it without extensive wasted cost. His inner circle, that seems so important to him as well as his family have their roots in the region. His moving just transplants all of this temporarily. His infrastructure and shadow is not moving. His commitment was referenced in his only comments publicly to date on his future. Displacing kids from their schools can have a very lasting impact. This is especially true for a Midwesterner. Grandmothers and cousins make a difference. Lifelong friendships with friends who also have families in the area that host cookouts and you see at local high school games are tradition. Not that every town does not have this multi-generational infrastructure, but how many people say they are from California or Florida? Being from Ohio, those are bragging rights. It identifies with all the values, traditions, hardships and weather. It conjures memories of The Drive (by Elway), The Shot (by Jordan) and the ones that got away like the Decision (by James).
Youth lesson: Don’t forget your roots and what got you to where you are. Give back when you can.
This time Lebron says its different. It is. His kids are older, now entering the most formative years of their lives. Do you want to send your kids away to school? Not if you are Lebron James. One of the things about a travelling father is there is a lot of guilt around your being away. California, Florida and the east coast have good private schools. But in High School that is a big transition. As a parent, decisions of where your kids go to school is a long-term decision. Ask Lebron, who at the high school level established his most lasting memories and relationships. You don’t do that as the new kids on the block. That support group has established the Lebron James franchise in Akron and Cleveland. When you look at Lebron’s next ten to twenty years playing basketball and then professionally in a career after playing the game, the options elsewhere pale to Cleveland. He has expressed investment interest in Basketball, entertainment and education as well as supporting inner city youth. Is it viable to do that anywhere else? Not only can he not get paid anywhere else what he can in his career ending in Cleveland, but he can own the team! Sure, he has a house in Los Angeles, but a fair number of people of means on the east coast also have a house in the Hamptons. They are not moving their businesses there.
Youth Lesson: Your decisions affect others. Your lifestyle can have an enormous impact on your children’s priorities, relationships and perspectives in life.
Why would Lebron take a pay cut, move his family and change his domicile for the tax increases and increased standard of living cost on the coasts. Its one thing in Florida with no state income tax. Its another thing in California(taxes) or San Antonio, where distance from the home port is an issue. Its different in New York or Philadelphia where all the uncertainty of taxes, management turnover and the same ego issues that led to Kyrie Irving’s departure are inevitable. This is the NBA! This is where its Cleveland against the world! This is where Lebron no longer can win an MVP because he is TO GOOD! He is an underdog and yet it fits him as an athlete that overachieves. He can do it in another city as he has shown in Miami. A legacy comes in a lot of forms, but decisions matter and how they are handled can really have an impact.
Youth Lesson: It is not all about Money. You can be the best and still not be recognized. What is important is that you are happy with yourself and your priorities.
When Lebron decided to take his talents to Miami it was a different time. He was young in search of specific goals and his kids were young. Winning, chasing the shadow of others and ego were top of mind. He had never lived for any extended time out of state. He needed to spread his wings and get the experience. Been there done that. Now the franchise is entering a new era. The legacy now shifts to his potential last move in the game and the life after with his family. In LA will it ever be Lebron’s legacy after, Jerry West, Kareem and Magic? Nope. Do his sons go his sports route? Possibly, but in that shadow, it will need a support structure unlike any other challenge in Lebron’s life. Maybe he could get some insight from Lonzo Ball’s Dad in Los Angeles. What is the balance of a legacy with another potential championship with another team versus Cleveland? That is the only question. Will that help his future after basketball? Probably not. He has proven his talent. He has proven his legacy and championship caliber. If he stays out of social media (which he himself mentions) and politics, he may even gain respect. He does not need another team for any of that. To upend Golden State will take any NBA team a lot more than a coach or a single player. The only time they were beat, Golden State went out and signed the best clone to Lebron they could find (Kevin Durant) and he won twice by joining a supporting cast of the best team in basketball.
Youth Lesson: Enjoy your youth. Experiment and spread your wings. Learn from your experiences. Prioritize.
If Lebron wants a potential championship and an enduring legacy, he has a dilemma. It’s a good dilemma if he does not listen to those with biases and selfish intents. The national media will make this a spectacle. The last time that contributed to an announcement very poorly handled. It took his local fan and community that loved him for more than basketball and violated their trust. The fans of Cleveland welcomed him back with the Midwest values of forgiveness and understanding that even a prodigal son could make mistakes and could mature by moving away for a few years. He has since grown and reestablished his franchise back in the region. There are no known answers in today’s world, but instinctually it would seem his greatest impact to his family, friends and franchise is clearly in Cleveland. He potentially can create a partnership with the Cavaliers establishing a role and influence that makes sense for all sides. If the winning results, it is not just gravy. It would be the most rewarding experience.