Since the formation of Miami’s “Big Three,” I’ve occasionally questioned whether LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could avoid stepping on each other’s toes without tripping over their own feet.
To improve the consistency of the Heat’s play, I’ve flippantly suggested trading Bosh for Anderson Varejao and spare parts, packaging Wade and Mario Chalmers for Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen and exchanging King James for The Poster Child, Blake Griffin.
As much as I’ve been captivated by their attempt to mesh their spectacular talent, I’ve never truly believed it would be possible for James and Wade — two of the four best players in the league — to coexist and win consistently at the highest level.
Now, I truly believe Wade and James teamed together for a higher purpose none of us, including Wade and James, understood at the time of “The Decision.” James and Wade are teaching us a lesson about sacrifice, intellectual evolution, courage, maturity and loyalty.
You could see all of that Friday in their decision to lead their teammates in publicly supporting the quest for justice in the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old Florida kid who was gunned down by an overzealous volunteer neighborhood watchman. Friday morning, by tweeting a bowed-head, hoodie-draped team photo, the Heat players joined the outraged voices demanding a full and transparent investigation into the shooter, George Zimmerman.
This was not an organization-approved act of protest. This was Wade and James independently using their platforms to shed light on a human tragedy that took the life of a Miami kid who was apparently profiled as a criminal simply because he was wearing a hoodie at the wrong time in the wrong gated suburban neighborhood.
(If you are unaware of the case, you can get up to speed by reading this Wikipedia link. The reaction by the police to Martin’s death is the primary reason so many Americans are outraged.)
Shortly after James and Wade made their positions public, Knicks star Carmelo Anthony followed suit. So did the Heat organization. By the end of Friday, the NBA Players Association, led by executive director Billy Hunter, a former prosecutor, issued a strong statement calling for Zimmerman’s arrest and prosecution.
Courage can be every bit as contagious as cowardice. Wade and James spread the courage virus throughout the NBA on Friday. At the formation of Miami’s “Big Three,” James and his defenders claimed the establishment was threatened by young black athletes seizing their power and using it.
For the first time, I now believe James understands his power. And it wasn’t in forcing NBA executives to come to his hometown, Akron, Ohio, to grovel at his feet, or announcing his relocation to South Beach on national TV or thumbing his nose at Dan Gilbert as he left Cleveland.
LeBron’s power is in using his platform, when appropriate, to make the establishment stretch beyond its comfort zone when it comes to dealing with the powerless. LeBron’s heart has always been in the right place. Teaming with Wade, a near equal in terms of talent and a big brother in terms of maturity, has moved LeBron’s head where his heart is.
“Not only have LeBron and Dwyane formed a dynamic basketball partnership,” NBA legend Isiah Thomas told me Friday night, “but they’ve created a dynamic friendship. They’re setting an example all men should follow, especially young black men. I’m proud and not surprised they expressed their support for Trayvon Martin and his family. Trayvon could’ve very easily been LeBron or Dwyane.”
Personally, I could not be more proud of James, Wade and the rest of the Heat players. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried when I saw their picture in support of Martin. America, a nation born in defiance, has become so establishment- and corporate-driven that I thought we’d never see another superstar athlete stand against anything remotely controversial.
“I said all along that this generation would eventually find its voice,” activist Dr. Harry Edwards told me. “There are some things that penetrate the veil of privilege and accomplishment and reward that has come to cocoon so many of our athletes today. Despite the quantum shift from heroism going back to the 1960s to celebrity of the modern athlete, there is, in the right instances, room for heroism. The wanton killing of Trayvon Martin is one of those instances.”
Translation: LeBron James might never be Muhammad Ali or Jim Brown. But James isn’t going to be Michael Jordan, either.
We spend so much time castigating James for lacking Jordan’s “killer instinct” that we forget the narcissistic, single-minded instinct allowed Jordan to ignore everything else, including every single act of injustice that transpired over the past 30 years.
LeBron won a title — humanitarian — on Friday in a league Jordan has yet to play in. Wade and James are co-MVPs in that league, and, if they accomplish nothing else in their time together in Miami, the partnership was a huge success.