On Monday, LeBron James finally got his "fucking playmaker." The Cavs inked Deron Williams to a deal after the veteran point guard was waived by the Dallas Mavericks.
The signing comes over a month after LeBron publicly stated the Cavs need for help on the roster. His quote, from Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
"We need a fucking playmaker," James said. "I'm not saying you can just go find one, like you can go outside and see trees. I didn't say that. I'm not singling out anybody. I'm not. Yeah, we won [the championship], but fuck, you know what, let's see if we can do something."
After James made the demand, many people from Charles Barkley to Twitter eggs had no problem calling him "whiny" and questioning his competitiveness. Arguments included "they're the defending champs" and "they have the highest payroll in the league."
A few nights ago, I finally decided to air some of my grievances with this line of thinking on Twitter.
LeBron is a lot of things, but more than anything he's keenly aware of his own basketball mortality. For some reason that bothers people— Mike Zavagno (@MZavagno11) February 27, 2017
Before I get to what I believe are the underlying societal issues with calling out LeBron, let's break down the facts.
The Golden State Warriors won 73 games in the regular season, making them the best regular season team in NBA history. The Cavs won the NBA Finals in Game 7 by a score of 93-89. Over the course of the series, Draymond Green was suspended, Andrew Bogut got injured, LeBron James delivered probably the best 3-game stretch of basketball in NBA history given the stakes, and much more.
Fast forward to the off-season. The Warriors added Kevin Durant--by all accounts a top-5 player in the league (and by my thinking a top-3 player in the world)--to a juggernaut. Reminder, this is Kevin FREAKING Durant.
Capped out after bringing back J.R. Smith and Richard Jefferson, the Cavs made moves on the fringes (Chris Andersen, Kay Felder, Mike Dunleavy).
I will try to put this into a more real-life context.
Say you are on a math competition team that just won the 8th grade citywide championship. In the middle school competition, all competitors were allowed to bring standard calculators. No graphing calculators were allowed (or needed to win).
Next year, you want to compete in the High School Math Competition. At the high school level, competitors are allowed to bring graphing calculators. You know that there will be questions asked that require a graphing calculator to get the answer correct.
Your rival team (who you beat last year) has brand new Ti-89 calculators--the best on the market--for this year's competition. You can't afford Ti-89s, but you would at least try to buy Ti-83s for your team, right? You wouldn't go into the contest with last year's standard calculators because "that's how we won last year!" It would put you at a clear disadvantage.
Kevin Durant is that Ti-89 calculator. The Cavs certainly can't afford Ti-89s for themselves, but some people think LeBron should be content bringing a standard calculator to a graphing calculator fight.
All LeBron is asking for is to be given a Ti-83. To have a chance against the Ti-89.
Moving away from the extended math analogy, LeBron James is keenly aware of his basketball mortality. That seems to bother people--and it speaks to a larger trend in society that I want to address.
In life (and in sports) we tend to wear these lone wolf blinders as a society. We favor people who can "do it by themselves" because they are "independent." But the truth of the matter is, our culture has an asking for help problem.
Think back to the classroom when the teacher would ask if anyone has any questions. I would guess that the VAST majority of the time, the room falls dead silent. Nobody would raise their hand and ask a question--even if they were confused.
But if you go to office hours with the professor, students will flood the gates with their questions. And many times--people will all be wondering the same thing. They were just too nervous or too embarrassed to ask the question that many of their classmates also needed answered.
For whatever reason, we discourage people from feeling secure in admitting that they need help. Somehow, it has become more honorable to put your head down and try to work through problems by yourself than asking those who have more information for clarity.
We are willing to attack our problems with an incomplete road map to maintain the facade that we can do it alone. Sometimes, we end up figuring it out and pat ourselves on the back. But too often, you get a B instead of an A because you "didn't full grasp the concept" or your boss tells you to go back to the drawing board because it just wasn't what she was looking for.
Look--I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I know what it's like to put my head down and think I can figure it out on my own. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't go according to plan. In writing this, I'm as much trying to better myself as anything else.
Sometimes, someone is willing to ask that clarifying question or admit they need help understanding the concept. Think about how we often treat that person.
"I thought Joe was the smartest kid in the class, but did you hear that stupid question he asked?"
Discouraging these people from feeling okay asking for help only serves to hold us back collectively as a society. We fail to improve because we spend time correcting mistakes that could have been avoided. We become complacent. We fall back without even realizing that we have fallen.
Instead of admonishing these people, I think that we should be applauding them. For being vulnerable. For admitting your own limitations. For acknowledging that you can't do it alone.
If we all took the time to ask for help, we would do better to put ourselves in a position to succeed and bring others along with us. It takes a village.
Thinking about how we typically act as a society, people admonishing LeBron for being willing to admit his own limitations is unsurprising.
LeBron is Joe in this context--the kid who is willing to ask the question that's on everyone else's mind. If you're a human being and a competitor, you are willing to do whatever it takes to win. Including acknowledging that you cannot do it alone.
As a society, we need to work harder to make asking for help a common occurrence as opposed to a taboo subject. To me, LeBron being willing to admit his own basketball mortality shows emotional intelligence and mental acuity.
We shouldn't go through life thinking we need to be lone wolves.
LeBron needs help to beat what might be the most talented team ever assembled. To think anything different is ignoring reality.
The Cavs still may not defend their Championship, but nobody can say LeBron James didn't do everything in his power to compete on the highest stage. He was willing to raise his hand and ask a question. He wanted to be prepared when it mattered most, not stuck wandering without a road map.
I hope we all can do a better job of asking for help. Acknowledging that it's not stupid or trivial to ask a clarifying question or gain a better understanding. Other people are probably thinking the same thing.
We can empower each other, but only if we do it together.