New Level

With a third championship ring, LeBron James has solidified himself as a transcendent figure.
by June 21, 2016

LeBron James is a rare human being. He’s one-of-a-kind and the world will never see anyone like him, ever again.

On Sunday night, LeBron did the unthinkable. After trailing in the series 3-1, he beat the defending NBA Champions and best regular season team of all-time, led by the two-time reigning MVP Steph Curry, but more importantly, he brought an NBA Title home to Cleveland.

He recorded a triple-double with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists en route to his third NBA Championship and Finals MVP award. For King James this championship is sweet, but the journey is sweeter.

At times LeBron makes plays on the court that seem superhuman, but on Sunday his human side showed when he cried uncontrollable tears of joy as he celebrated the victory with his teammates, coaches and the collective city of Cleveland.

Although winning the title for the Cavs is one for the record books, LeBron’s massive cultural impact over the last decade and a half leading up to this moment makes for one of the most amazing, unprecedented stories ever and goes well beyond the game of basketball.

Since being drafted by the Cavs first overall in 2003, LeBron has been synonymous with Cleveland. He was closely connected with Northeast Ohio. He was their native son. Then, he made “The Decision” to take his talents to South Beach. In the eyes of many he betrayed his homeland and the connectedness he’d built up his entire life was gone. Miami would be “his college” as he called it. He said he became a better player and a better man. He learned what it took to win an NBA Championship.

So, about two years ago in July of 2014 after winning two championships with the Heat, LeBron surprised many and announced he would leave Miami to return to the Cavaliers in a heartfelt letter published by Sports Illustrated. In that letter he said, “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball” and “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.” He would forgive Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert for the nasty things he said and return to his home team. The connection to Northeast Ohio would slowly come back.

Since that letter set the internet on fire, LeBron has been on a mission. He’s been relentless. He helped assemble a team that could win a title. Last year they lost to the Warriors and this year they trailed 3-1, but they came back and shocked the world. Winning this Championship for Cleveland was everything he worked for and the reason he returned to Cleveland.

Rewind to February 18th, 2002 when LeBron, then a high school junior, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “THE CHOSEN ONE.” The story said if he entered the NBA Draft as a 17-year-old junior that he would be the No. 1 overall pick. At the time he was a phenom, a natural. He was born to play basketball. He would become the most hyped high school athlete in the history of sports.

Fast forward to LeBron’s first NBA game on October 29th, 2003 when he recorded 25 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds and 4 steals as an 18-year-old rookie. Ever since that day when he’s stepped on an NBA floor, he’s amazed everyone who has seen him play.

He has a body that Greek Gods would die for, is an absolute freak athlete and anyone who knows his Sports Illustrated dubbed nickname “The Chosen One” can understand why after seeing him play for just one minute.

Most basketball fans know about all of the awards LeBron has won, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock, he’s a 12-time All Star, 2-time All star Game MVP, 4-time league MVP, 3-time NBA Finals Champion, 3-time NBA Finals MVP and 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist among several other accolades.

From a basketball standpoint, many called LeBron the next Michael Jordan. The fact is, no one will ever be Mike.

Jordan paved the way for superstar athletes to become mainstream successes in the ’90s and Kobe Bryant followed in Michael’s footsteps in every way possible. But LeBron has made his own way. Different than Jordan, LeBron had carved his own path by chasing a title in a different city, then returning to his birth-state to bring a title home. LeBron has opened himself up for the haters to pile on, but over the years he’s become more self aware and cognizant of public perception, maturing right in front of our eyes.

Similar to Jordan and Kobe, LeBron’s remarkable basketball skills and savvy business acumen has led to being hugely influential on a global scale. Evidence of that can be found when back in December of 2015 the biggest footwear company on the planet, Nike, signed LeBron to an unprecedented lifetime contract that some sources have estimated at over $1 billion.

Prior to LeBron’s prominent rise, several professional athletes have been in great positions and squandered their fortune and/or opportunity to do good in the world with bad decisions or bad people around them. That won’t be LeBron. LeBron has had the presence of mind to surround himself with purposefully chosen people, allowing him to capitalize on his talent and marketability, to make carefully calculated moves, bringing new, unique, creative ideas to life, making his career lucrative and his life seemingly happier. He is among a handful of NBA players that have amassed fortunes that even Powerball winners would be jealous of. The moguls on that list includes Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The best part about LeBron though is that he uses the visibility he’s gained to pay his happiness forward, leading people to happier lives themselves.

Love or hate LeBron, his vision, foresight and ability to shape, morph and transform situations he’s been put in has raised the bar for what it means to be a leader. LeBron has earned an incredible amount of respect from some of the most important, influential people around the world and he uses that trust for good.

As LeBron has matured, his approach to how he handles himself has evolved. He’s grown up. When he speaks, people pay attention. He is a true leader and has set the tone for not just pro athletes, but for all people looking to do and be better. LeBron has become one of the most admirable athletes in the world today.

Even though King James will go down as one of the greatest players in NBA history, the hope, belief and inspiration he’s given his home state, specifically the Northeast Ohio area, is something immeasurable that will have a lasting impact long after LeBron is gone. He is specifically passionate about giving back to his hometown and the Cleveland area through the LeBron James Family Foundation, where he is focused on helping continue to educate kids and moving the community forward as a whole.

LeBron’s polarizing persona of the past has set him up to be a hero to some and a villain to even more. In this day and age of social media where almost nothing is private, LeBron has been exposed more than MJ ever was in the 1990s and has been one of the most public figures of the last 20 years, with every moment since he was 15 on display for the world to see and criticize. But now, at least for a moment, the critics have been silenced. He’s made his doubters eat their words.

Over the last 15 years, LeBron has gone from a young, talented, flashy 16-year old basketball phenom to a 31-year old proud husband, father, 4-time MVP, 3-time NBA Champion and global business icon who has earned hundreds of millions of dollars and brought happiness to millions of people, transcending the game of basketball.

Moving forward, what LeBron does with his fortune, fame, connections and power over the next 15 years could make him the most influential athlete we’ve ever seen.