Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

The Torah of Lebron James

Last Sunday, millions of people throughout the world watched the world-renowned basketball player LeBron James frying (Steph) Curry around dinner time, thereby winning Cleveland its first ever NBA championship.

Over the years, LeBron alienated some people and became a controversial figure. Setting this aside, I would like to point out three very noteworthy spiritual and ethical virtues which “King James” exemplifies.

Firstly, notice what LeBron did right after Game 7 was over. He sat down on the floor, and he started to cry. And then he got up, and thanked “The Man upstairs”, meaning of course – G-d Almighty. For me, this was an awesome and inspiring, indeed uplifting, spiritual gesture. After all, LeBron just achieved the seemingly unachievable. He led his team to two wins in the Oracle Arena, with the team under his leadership becoming the first team in NBA history to ever come back from being down 3-1 in the finals, and win the series.

Many people would’ve been tempted, at a moment of such spectacular success, to go on an ego trip, and boast in an arrogant and self-aggrandizing way. But remarkably, instead of doing that, LeBron chose to thank G-d.

The Torah warns us not to become arrogant when we achieve great things, and not to fall into a narcissistic and self-celebratory state of mind, to the mind set of: “It is (exclusively and only) my strength and the might of my hand which brought about this great success (Deuteronomy 8:17).”

LeBron did not do that when the game ended. Rather, he instinctively and wholeheartedly chose to perform the noble mitzvah of “Hakarat Hatov”, which means: “Expressing gratitude”.  This important Torah principal is also reflected in Deuteronomy 8:18: “And you shall remember that it is Hashem your G-d who gives you the fortitude to excel and to succeed.”

A couple of years ago, LeBron came back home to his native Cleveland, where he grew up. Specifically, LeBron grew up under harsh socio-economic conditions in a single-parent household, in the underprivileged area of Akron.

 

And remarkably, LeBron doesn’t forget his roots. By now LeBron has given some eleven hundred (1100) college scholarships to youngsters from his native milieu.

In other words, LeBron does not forget his humble beginnings and origins, and where he came from. He gives back to his community in abundance and with great generosity and love.

Lastly, LeBron has been with the same spouse, his wife and high school sweetheart Savannah Brinson, since his high school days, which is not always the case with movie stars and sports stars.

So this is the “Torah”/spiritual-ethical teachings that we can all learn from LeBron James: Firstly, thank G-d and express gratitude at peak moments of self-actualization.

Secondly, if you’re in a position to do so, give back generously and wholeheartedly to your community. Thirdly, no matter how hard you work to advance in your career, always remember that first and foremost you “must” privilege and prioritize the importance and sanctity of family life, which is the very cornerstone of our emotional and mental well-being.

Over the years, LeBron was the subject of a lot of criticism from various quarters. But as the cliché goes (and like every cliché, it contains more than a kernel of truth), people are complicated, and there is so much more to LeBron James than that which initially meets the eye.

We homo-sapiens are complicated and multi-faceted beings. We all have redeeming qualities, and also – some not too redeeming qualities as well.

So bezrat Hashem, let us aspire to see each other in a three-dimensional and holistic way, and also – in a manner befitting the complex creatures that we are, and may we all find grace and loving-kindness in the eyes of G-d and man, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sessler

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