“I’m the Best Player in the World”: LeBron James and Humility

If you havn’t heard, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, LeBron James was asked about his confidence level after losing one of the most pivotal games of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

“Nah” James replied.

“I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world. It’s simple.”

Most people–especially non-Clevelanders–find it arrogant, cocky, and even disrespectful… but I’d like to propose a different perspective.

In my opinion, LeBron James saying he’s the best player in the world isn’t cocky–it’s a reality. In fact, it’s been the consensus for several years. And while it sounds strange, I think it displays a certain type of humility. Allow me to explain.

To be in tune with the human experience is to recognize two profound things: 1) our failures, but even more importantly, 2) our potential for greatness.

The art of the humility

Coming home from Miami, he’s a different man and his past mistakes no longer define him. He is a leader who is keenly aware of his shortcomings. If you think the games are fun to watch, you need to check out his post-game interviews. He is transparent and specific about his shortcomings and failures–even when he had the best performance on the court. It’s part of what makes him so impressive.

When losing to the Bulls in the playoffs, 92-99, James replied:

“None of us get a pass tonight. We have to be better. I have to be better. I had seven turnovers tonight. Maybe if I had four we don’t put ourselves in that position. I also shot 8 for 25 from the field…. 1 for 7 from the three-point line, and only had one steal. It’s not about [blaming] Kyrie–put it on me.”

Comparatively, James blows a lot of the competition out of the water, yet he still nitpicks his performance. It’s profound to watch one of the best players in the world talk about the ways he must improve for the team and for the city.

It reminds me of one of my literature teachers who often said: “The greatest human tragedy is to compare oneself to another.” It applies to everyone–whether you’re at the top or the bottom. Greatness begins when you break through your own limits–not limits set by someone else.

Like any other “controversial” comment there is a back story that people ignore. For this specific interview, James first acknowledges the greatness in his opponent, Steph Curry. He says, “You have to tip your hat to a guy who can make shots like that… He’s the best shooter in our league.”

And again, James is transparent, discussing the specific reasons why they lost: “We gave up 18 fast-break points, we gave up 15 second-chance points. Steph was obviously special but his ‘threes’ were not the reason we lost.” James insists that the blame be put on him and his team.

As difficult as it may seem, true greatness begins with honest reflection on our faults and failures. If you take a look at the videos above, you’ll see James’ eyes referencing his stats, as he reveals all of his shortcomings. How many of us have a list of stats that reveal the ways we failed to live up to our potential? If not, then maybe we should.

The cost of greatness

Moreover, greatness may seem glamorous but it comes with a price. I have a priest friend who always quotes a line from the movie Spider-man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I can’t help but think that for James, basketball is more than a game. It’s the way he expresses his true self, it’s his art-form, and probably most importantly, it’s his responsibility–on many days a very burdensome one. He is a man who knows the weight of his greatness. This isn’t cocky–rather, it’s humbling to know that random kid from Akron, Ohio wakes up every morning with a mission to break through all the obstacles–even if it’s in a sports arena. We can only hope these lessons extend to all other aspects of his life as well.

I didn’t find LeBron’s comment to be cocky nor arrogant. He was simply acknowledging the reality and the reasons to remain confident until the very end. There is no doubt the weight of his responsibility can be burdensome but that’s the cost of greatness and he’s aware of it. Being the best doesn’t mean you’re invincible but it’s a darn good reason to go into the final game/s with confidence.

Overall, it’s small-minded to force James into box, writing him off as an arrogant baller, especially when there is so much to admire about his leadership.

Don’t be jealous… Be hungry

Dont be mad… don’t be jealous. Instead, respect it. Enjoy it. Even better, strive for it. Because the greatness we are witnessing is something we are all capable of achieving–if only we would stop making excuses.

To say the least, I’m impressed by this man’s capability to lead with both humility and confidence at the same time. That my friends is greatness. …And it’s been a heck of a series to watch.

Photo via Flickr, CC 2.0, Logo added