Would you be willing to leave it all to come back with more?
Here’s the incredible story of how LeBron James traded reputation for results, going from NBA Most Valuable Player to “most hated” and back – winning the NBA finals for his home team this week.
In the 2009-10 NBA Season, LeBron won his second MVP in a row, with a career high points score. The problem? His home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, weren’t succeeding in their attempt to beat their 2008-09 season, when they had made it to the NBA finals in a record-breaking year.
As Cleveland began losing games, blame was being put on LeBron and he was being booed off the court. At the end of the season, he had to make a big decision:
Should he continue to try and win the NBA with Cleveland, where he had been for his entire 7 year professional career – a team that had never won the NBA in its history? Or should he transfer to a team with experience of winning the NBA, learn what it takes to win, and then return and win with Cleveland in the future?
LeBron decided to trade the short term for the long game, saying “I have short goals – to get better every day, to help my teammates every day – but my only ultimate goal is to win an NBA championship. It’s all that matters. I dream about it.”
In what became known as “The Decision”, LeBron announced his decision to transfer to the Miami Heat.
Overnight, he became the “most hated” player in the NBA – and the “most disliked” player in American sport. A Sports Illustrated poll showed fan support going from 78% positive before to 81% negative after his decision.
Through the 2010-11 season, LeBron was the villain. When he returned to Cleveland, he was booed every time he touched the ball. To make matters worse, Miami lost in the NBA finals to the Dallas Mavericks, with much of the blame going to LeBron’s poor performance where he broke the wrong kind of record – with the largest point drop-off in league history.
LeBron persevered, saying “You can’t be afraid to fail. It’s the only way you succeed – you’re not gonna succeed all the time, and I know that.”
He spent the off-season working on his game. His work and determination paid off, and over the next 2 years he scored two back-to-back NBA championships with Miami. LeBron was voted MVP both years.
Then, In 2014, LeBron returned to the Cavaliers, saying “I’m a guy who believes in unfinished business”.
Ironically, his homecoming was equally mocked – this time by Miami, with the Miami media taking out billboards across Cleveland with an image of two NBA rings and the words “You’re Welcome LeBron; Love, Miami.”
LeBron’s reply: “I came back for a reason. I came back to bring a championship to our city.”
LeBron got totally focused, saying “I treated it like every day was my last day with a basketball”. In his first season back, Cleveland made it all the way to the NBA finals, but were ultimately beaten by the Golden State Warriors.
In the 2015-16 season, again, the Cavaliers made it to the NBA finals against the Golden State Warriors. Cleveland were the clear underdogs against the defending champions, who were stepping into the finals with an NBA record-breaking 73 victories in the season.
The finals began at the beginning of June, and they didn’t start well, with Cleveland 3-1 down after the first 4 of the 7 games. LeBron kept focused, saying “The game always gives back to people that’s true to the game. I’ve watched it. I know the history of the game, and I was just calm. I was calm. I was focused. I was locked in.”
Cleveland fought back to 3-3. Then, on Sunday, Cleveland won the 7th game 92-89 in the last 2 minutes, following a block by LeBron and a winning shot by Kyrie Irving.
It was a fairy tale ending, with Cleveland being the first team in history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals, and the first time they had won the NBA championship.
After the game, LeBron said into the microphone “Cleveland, this one’s for you!”
Yesterday he was unanimously named the 2016 Finals MVP, and joined Michael Jordan as the only players to ever win four regular season MVPs and three Finals MVPs. When asked in his speech what was special about this MVP, he said “Because I’m home. This is what I came back for.”
It’s one thing to grow from strength to strength. It’s another to trade all the short term glory for the long term gain.
What short term sacrifice are you willing to make for your long term dream?
And how do you know how to cut through all the noise and criticism to make the right choice?
LeBron related advice he once got from Warren Buffett: “Warren Buffet told me once and he said always follow your gut. When you have that gut feeling, you have to go with it and don’t go back on it.”