How LeBron James is Investing In True Wealth

LeBron James

LeBron James highlights the power of having a higher purpose when making important life decisions

I had intended to write about a different topic this week and then I heard about the LeBron James announcement that he was going back to Cleveland and then I read the essay he posted on SI.com. After reading that I decided to switch gears as I was so impressed and moved by what he wrote and how deep this narrative on his decision really is. I have found that life is more interesting when one keeps an open and flexible mind. This can also pay great dividends in investing as well.

I have found over the years that my experiences in the world of investing have made me think about wealth and life in deeper ways and how powerful it can be to make important life decisions through the prism of a guiding purpose. LeBron has done just this. He has prioritized coming back home over the instant gratification of immediate championships. He could have stayed in Miami and had a better chance of winning a championship then he will  by having gone to Cleveland that has great young talent, but is not ready yet. LeBron’s story fits classically into the Hero’s Journey, described brilliantly by Joseph Campbell in his The Hero with a Thousand Faces. After comparing stories and myths from many cultures over thousands of years, he came to conclude that they typically follow a very common formula that involves the hero Preparing to leave on a journey, encountering Trials along the way, Departing on the journey, and then eventually Returning in triumph. Before a hero goes on an epic quest, there is a period of Preparation and then he must go through various tests and Trials as a form of initiation to prove that he is worthy to depart on his heroic journey. It is during this stage that one learns that he has to let go of so much that he is holding onto that is creating resistance.

LeBron was destined to be a superstar from a very young age.  He made the cover of Sports Illustrated while in high school and was the number one pick in the draft when he was just 17 (I don’t think the Beatles were thinking of him). And to complete the fairy tale, he was drafted by his home state Cleveland Cavaliers. He performed remarkably well, almost single-handedly leading them to the NBA finals in 2007, only to go down in flames and dogged with the accusation he quit when times got tough against the San Antonio Spurs. After two great seasons in 2008 and 2009, the Cavs lost in the playoffs. His Cleveland years fed into the narrative of falling short. The failure in the finals and the ensuing years added to the pressure that he wasn’t effective in big games and shirked from taking charge which all the greats do when they’re on the biggest stage and the chips are on the line.  LeBron faced some difficult trials and when his contract was up he infamously chose to make an announcement on national television that “He was going to take his talents to South Beach.” In the face of adversity some people fight and others flee. Many detractors, including the Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, said he was a coward and running away. Whatever your opinion, he either fought to get to a place where he could go to four NBA championships in a row or he fled there. It is hard to argue he made the wrong choice from a career perspective. He sure took some massive PR hits around the country, particularly in Cleveland. As we learned in the essay, LeBron realized he made a mistake in the way he handled leaving Cleveland. Yet, according to Campbell, this is where the opportunity to grow offers the greatest potential. Campbell said :

 “Where you stumble, that’s where your treasure is….The world is a match for us and we’re a match for the world. Where it seems to be most challenging is where the greatest invitation lies to find deeper and greater powers in ourselves.”

The first year in Miami resulted in another trip to the finals but added to the disappointment and the narrative that LeBron shirked his responsibilities in big games and was too unselfish. He needed to take charge more and demand the ball when the game was on the line. In a fascinating article about LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, in Campbell like sageness he told LeBron the following after the loss (before he was his agent):

“The reason you didn’t win it is that you weren’t being you,” Paul said. “You were playing with a lot of anger, being someone you’re not. If God had let you win, you would’ve felt like you should be that person — angry, thinking everybody’s against you, not having fun on the court. That’s not you.”

“Man, whatever,” said James. “I’m not trying to hear this.”

“It’s bigger than what you did on the floor, Bron. It started from day one, when you decided to be someone else. God took you from your highest point to your lowest point so you could be humble, so you could look in the mirror and be a better player. Experience is the best teacher.”

James was quiet. But the words, uttered by one of the few men who can deliver King James an unpopular message, hit home. Before long in interviews, at his camp, in the mirror, LeBron was saying the exact same thing. James took Paul’s advice to heart and they won back to back championships in Miami the next two years. LeBron’s journey to Miami was vindicated. According to Campbell, there is usually a powerful call for the hero to embark on the journey.

If what you are following is your own true adventure, if it is something appropriate to your deep spiritual need or readiness, then magical guides will appear to help you.Your adventure has to be coming right out of your own interior. If you are ready for it, then doors will open where there were no doors before, and where there would not be doors for anyone else. And you must have courage. It’s the call to adventure, which means there is no security, no rules.”

LeBron and Miami made the necessary adjustments to triumph and it was now hard to argue that LeBron made the wrong or selfish decision. The attempt to win a third straight championship did not materialize as the Heat were blown out by the San Antonio Spurs who were seeking to avenge last year’s devastating collapse. The holes in the Miami roster were now quite apparent and what got them to four consecutive finals would not be enough to win future championships without getting younger. As LeBron reflected on his time in Miami he came to learn a lot about who he was and what was truly important to him. In his own words:

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left. Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go. I will always think of Miami as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.”

I love the analogy that for him going to Miami was like going to college. He left the comfort of home, established his independence, achieved extraordinary success, eventually looked deeply within when it came time to graduate, and decided that it was time to return home..which is the last part of the journey. After the hero completes his journey it is incumbent upon him to Return in order to impart some of the most important lessons learned on the journey. The successful hero retains the wisdom he has gained from the quest and seeks to impart it to others, which is particularly challenging when he finds that most people live inauthentic lives, not living from their true centers and bringing front and center Thoreau’s famous observation that “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Campbell said that it is up to every individual to do all he can to follow his bliss. When one is following his bliss he is able to access and work from his quiet center and pursue that which inspires a sense of wonder and connectedness within him. The hero is one who disregards all of the “Thou shalts” and does what he is meant to do. Anyone can be a hero. You don’t have to have superpowers or save millions from destruction by evil forces or a superstar athlete. One just has to find his purpose and live from that quiet center that such focused living can evoke. It allows one to much more easily separate the signal from the noise. LeBron came to realize that his purpose was to bring back hope and opportunity to his true home, Northeast Ohio. I believe he thinks he can do for Northeast Ohio what Michael Dell did for Austin or Bill Gates and Paul Allen did for Seattle. He can transform it into a magnet for talented and vibrant people to create a dynamic and growing economy so that its best and brightest can stay unlike what has been the case in the past. He can also take on the role of leader and mentor for the very young and talented Cavaliers team.

“When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio. I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”

Instead of trying to equal or exceed Michael Jordan’s six championships, LeBron has now traded in the desire for more and more for climbing the very steep mountain to achieve just one for Cleveland so they can taste something they’ve never experienced. I can’t help but think of the Cat Stevens song, Father and Son, when I reflect on LeBron’s journey. The song is a “dialogue” between the older, calmer, more wise father and the son who is very excitable and clearly has issues with his father and believes he doesn’t understand him. He believes he has no choice but to leave. He needs to find himself and his unique path without feeling the burden of his father’s shadow. Although the tirade by the Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert after LeBron made his announcement that he was leaving was ridiculously immature and unprofessional, in many ways he was trying to convey a similar message to LeBron like the father in the song. In terms of behavior the roles were reversed with Gilbert acting like the child and LeBron the father, but with regard to the messages, they were similar. Gilbert was telling LeBron to not be so hasty, think about it, Cleveland offers so much to you while LeBron was telling Gilbert that he just doesn’t listen to him and what he truly needs and that Cleveland is becoming too much of a burden and he needs to leave.Think of Gilbert as the father and James as the son as you read the lyrics.

Father

It’s not time to make a change,

Just relax, take it easy.

You’re still young, that’s your fault,

There’s so much you have to know.

Find a girl, settle down,

If you want you can marry.

Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.

I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy,

To be calm when you’ve found something going on.

But take your time, think a lot,

Why, think of everything you’ve got.

For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.

Son

How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.

It’s always been the same, same old story.

From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.

Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.

I know I have to go.

Father

It’s not time to make a change,

Just sit down, take it slowly.

You’re still young, that’s your fault,

There’s so much you have to go through.

Find a girl, settle down,

if you want you can marry.

Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.

Son

All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,

It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it.

If they were right, I’d agree, but it’s them you know not me.

Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.

I know I have to go.

LeBron left, did what he had to do, and now he has told Miami that it is now time for him to leave once again, for the last time, so he can return home and complete his hero’s journey. In my personal definition of wealth LeBron has shown how wealthy he truly is. He had the willingness to look deep within to see where he made mistakes and what he could do to avoid repeating them in the future. I believe he showed this by the way he handled the decision to return to Cleveland and how differently it was done from the hoopla that surrounded the first decision. He also showed the courage to make a big change to go after what he really wanted: championships. He did this by moving to Miami despite the risk and pain he would cause his loyal cadre of fans in Cleveland. Finally, he realized that after reaching the summit he now has a higher purpose, which has called him back home. I would say that LeBron James is an extraordinarily wealthy person. Well done LeBron. Keep following your bliss.


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