LeBron James is 25 years old. If he had gone to college and completed all four years, he would have graduated in 2007. Think of the people you know who are that age, think of the decisions they make and how they carry themselves, take a quick glance through their Facebook tagged pictures, and then imagine them with hundreds of millions of dollars and the freedom to do whatever they want. Do they seem like super well adjusted people who are driven enough to have excelled in their vocation, if they had skipped college and had been working for the last 7 years, to have elevated themselves to the third or fourth best person in their field? Probably not.
LeBron James is announcing his decision tonight regarding with which team he will play for the next 3-to-5 years. At 9 p.m., there'll be an hour long live special airing on ESPN called 'The Decision,' in which LeBron does or does not confirm his move to Miami. This has made some people very heated and upset! Why is he making such a spectacle of this whole process? He's obsessed with attention, how annoying and despicable! What an asshole! Well, okay, sure, he probably wanted some of the attention. But the way LeBron has acted through this free agent process, and really the greater part of his career, is less a product of him being the biggest attention-monger of all time, but a product of the culture and time period he was brought up in.
Millenials are indecisive!
Some people are mad that LeBron doesn't just quickly re-sign with his hometown team in Cleveland and play out the rest of his career with the team that drafted him, the Cavaliers. Larry Bird did it! Magic Johnson did it! Michael Jordan almost did it! These same people don't understand why he's making a fuss about the decision at all. This is the kinda false "what about the loyalty" argument.
Those same people though forget that LeBron is a confused 25-year-old kid. (I don't want to speak in generalities on behalf of all Millennials, but for the sake of explaining myself, I'm going to have to do it a lot here, sorry!) We're a generation that's been told that we can do anything that we want, and on top of that, we've been brought up to believe that we should never settle for anything less than the best. As a result, we often think that in the 25th hour, there's always something a little better that's going to crop up.
As a result, you can imagine that a kid like Lebron, who has not only been brought up to think like that, but has actually achieved-for the most part-being the best, you know, in the world, would be indecisive and stress over this decision. LeBron is entering his personal prime; he may never be in better shape physically to play basketball. After this whole free agency exercise, he will have no more excuses. If he doesn't win now, after having picked his team, picked his teammates, anything less than a championship is going to be a disappointment. That's a lot of pressure!
In the last week, reports have come out that many sources are "certain" that he was going to go to: Chicago, Miami, New Jersey (for a second), staying in Cleveland, then Chicago again, Miami again, New York, Cleveland, Chicago, New York, then finally this morning, people are going big on Miami again. I don't think these sources were wrong! In fact, they were probably all right. I'm not saying we should feel sorry for this guy who is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but it seems to me that he's legitimately confused.
Millennials are hyper self-aware! AND/OR People are very vocal these days!
There's another camp of people out there who think that LeBron is delaying his decision to build drama, that this entire protracted public deliberation has been a marketing plan for himself because he wants the attention. I think it's a natural conclusion to reach. because we've never seen any sort of hullabaloo like this before around a sports player and his decision to play on a particular team. Compound that with the fact that LeBron once foolishly admitted on the record that he has goals of being a "global icon" and it's easy to paint LeBron as a super egomaniacal guy. To that I would argue that LeBron is no more egomaniacal than the rest of us his age. And furthermore, a large part of the excessive event-ness may very well be a product of the state of today's media/"media," rather than a larger self serving plan by LeBron himself. Everyone wants in on the LeBron game.
Kids today (get off my lawn!) think about personal brand management. They probably don't call it that, because they're kids and unless they're publicists, they're not usually into using such buzzwords, but the fact remains that young people today have a lot more outward-facing public personalities with which they try to gain attention and favor. Instead of just caring about dressing a certain way, now you have to make sure your Facebook profile is socially acceptable, your Twitter, your Tumblr, and your whatever. The things you post on these places makes you inherently much more self aware and adds a pressure to what you're associated with. Sure, you like The Mentalist and will talk about it on Twitter, but you don't necessarily like it enough to "fan" it on Facebook, because that might be a little much, although you can still put clips of it up on your Tumblr. Today, teens have varying tiers of which they will publicly associate with The Mentalist!
Now realize that LeBron has been hardwired with this built-in self-scrutiny and has had all of his major decisions been public ones for almost a decade. Now he's about to make a choice that will be dissected for the rest of his career. His self awareness, and most likely the large number of people talking in his ear, make this free agent decision more than just "Where am I going to work and live for the next three-to-five years?" but a bigger question about his legacy, his place in NBA history. This does not seem fun! Again: this is not meant to invoke pity for LeBron, but more to suggest that his behavior through this whole process may not have been just to serve his own ego.
As far as what the big deal that the media has made this, isn't that more a testament to our culture now? 24-hour news cycles, as they like to call them, and the Internet as a whole, already make non-story molehills into mountains, but pageview gaming and Twitter take that to an even more heightened level.
A recent example is this phenomenon is this year's World Cup. Although the tournament itself wasn't necessarily better-in fact the early rounds were definitely worse from a talent/gameplay perspective-everyone wanted to talk about it on Twitter. Whether it was the guy who wanted to seem clever by making a vuvuzela joke or the girls who wanted to earn boyish street cred by feigning interest in this fringe sport played by cute guys, the World Cup was way more prevalent in the social stream of our lives than it had ever been before.
The LeBron news cycle is cranked up with this same social media amplification. So even if we didn't want to know about all of the little sea changes of LeBron's whims, we were subject to them because Twitter gave everyone a platform. Players, other athletes, reporters, totally random people: we heard their take, which then made everyone else want to share their opinion and join the conversation.
Early in Kobe Bryant's career, he put out a half-baked rap song and music video that featured Tyra Banks. And really, that's the difference between Kobe and LeBron. Kobe didn't have to deal with YouTube, he didn't have to worry about Deadspin, PTI, SportsNation making talking points out of it, or deal with the fact that a video like that would probably have been insanely viral on the internet. Do you think LeBron could put out this video? No way. But more to the point, LeBron would never think to do that, because he's too aware of his own brand. For future reference: LeBron's rap song will feature Jay-Z on the third verse, Drake on the hook, and will be produced by Kanye West.
Millennials are celebrity conscious!
Today, we just have more celebrities than ever. The internet has made it easier for people to get famous and for their fans to find them. Are you into comedy? You don't have to just aspire to just be either Dane Cook or Jerry Seinfeld, but if you're into more alternative stuff, you can align yourself with a Zach Galifianakis. Too popular after The Hangover? Want a little more indie-cred? Go Louis CK. Maybe more actor-y and less stand up comedian-y? Adam Scott it is. There are options out there.
LeBron is no different. Whereas Kobe looked up to Michael Jordan, Magic, or Dr. J, LeBron's modeled himself after not only MJ but luminaries in other fields. One of LeBron's most often cited inspirations is Jay-Z. LeBron was in middle school when Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt was released, he was in high school when The Blueprint came out, his formative years were shaped by watching a rapper transform himself from a popular musician into a global icon-and enterprise. Jay-Z leveraged his charisma and ability to rap better than everyone else into owning his own liquors, clubs, a clothing line, a consulting company, a basketball team. Lebron's decisions now reflect this influence to be more than "just" a successful athlete. That's why LeBron started his own marketing company, that's why LeBron counts Warren Buffett as an adviser, and that's why he is so mindful of how his brand is navigated.
At the core, this is what frustrates so many people: why does LeBron put out a documentary about himself in the offseason instead of figuring out more post-up moves? Why is LeBron in Jay-Z's music videos and on stage with Drake and Young Jeezy at their concerts, when he should be studying up on how to avoid situations where he's forced to go 1-on-4 against the Celtics defense? Michael Jordan never let extracurricular happenings get in the way of him being the best (and most winningest) basketball player of all time. Kobe Bryant hasn't done that on his way to five championships (and it's definitely worth noting that both of them had serious off the court scandals involving their home life and the law).
But LeBron isn't like Kobe or Michael, for better or for worse. When LeBron finally chose a Twitter name, he picked "King James," which is the way he's branded by Nike. When LeBron makes his decision for which team he's going to during free agency, he does it by way of a live ESPN one-hour special.
It's unclear as to how LeBron's career will play out, because the first millennials are just now starting to struggle through their positions of power-see Mark Zuckerberg, for one. It's hard to say whether or not he'll reach the potential that's been touting him up so hard. But the same could probably be said for the rest of our generation as well.