Liberate

The Grace Of A Great: A Farewell To LeBron James

lebron-james-300What is it about LeBron James that generates so much raw emotion and passion among his fans? Is it because of his two NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, two NBA Finals MVP Awards, two Olympic gold medals, an NBA scoring title, and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award? His pure athletic greatness could be the reason he has so many die-hard followers. But for me, as of yesterday, he’s come to represent something much more.

It wasn’t until he decided yesterday to return to his hometown and play once again for the team that drafted him back in 2003–the Cleveland Cavaliers–that I finally realized what it was about LeBron that has entranced me for the last four years as he played his guts out for my beloved Miami Heat.

I was devastated by the news – following closely in real-time for the final decision. I was scared to read his piece in Sports Illustrated on Friday morning. I didn’t want to believe that he was actually leaving Miami. But as I read his letter, two things happened: my fears became reality (he was, in fact, leaving Miami) but secondly, I realized that what attracts me to LeBron is something more than just his basketball prowess. It’s his gracefulness.

Hang in there with me on this one. LeBron was with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2003-2010 – Ohio was his home and his devotion was clear.

Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart.

After his long tenure, LeBron made the decision to leave his home and the Cleveland Cavaliers to move to Miami on July 8, 2010. He had brought the Cavalier organization from the bottom of the NBA to the top…leading them to their first ever NBA Finals in 2007. He brought basketball respectability to Cleveland. When he left, he didn’t leave because he was demanding a trade or pouting because he didn’t have a better supporting cast. He left as a free-agent…meaning, he fulfilled his contract with the Cavs and was now free to sign with any team he chose. He had fulfilled his responsibilities in Cleveland and was now relocating. He was offered a “job” in Miami and he took it because it gave him the opportunity to play with two of his best friends, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and it gave him the best chance to win multiple championships…which, in that business, is the goal.

While I was thrilled with the decision and what this meant for my Miami Heat, I watched as LeBron James instantly fell from grace in the eyes of his once-loyal following. His decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers drew immense criticism. He was villainized by sports analysts, ostracized by his fans, and emotionally exiled from the place he once called home. He was no longer their hope and their hero. Cavalier fans burned his jersey in the streets. The owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote a piece on LeBron that was so slanderous and scathing I couldn’t believe what I was reading when I first saw it.

But, for the next four years, LeBron would prove to be my hero as he led the Miami Heat to four straight NBA Finals appearances and back-to-back championships. He was a super star. He had passion and courage and ridiculous talent. Like I said, however, there was something else about him that always resonated with me. And I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until yesterday…the day he decided to leave my team and go back to Cleveland.

This is where grace comes in.

In 2010, Cleveland had disowned and betrayed LeBron – from his once-beloved fans to his former teammates to the owner to the city itself – and he lived with this in his heart for four years. But, despite the fact that he wasn’t welcome there (he was, in fact, booed every time he went back there to play with the Heat) nor had he ever achieved championship status there, LeBron forgave them all before they had even asked. LeBron’s love for “his people” compelled him to leave a city that loved him (Miami) for a city that disowned him (Cleveland):

To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?

LeBron’s decision to return to a city he loves with a desire to bless the same people who cursed and ridiculed him four years ago is a remarkable picture of grace.

Cleveland, not LeBron, is the fickle prodigal son. And LeBron, not Cleveland, is the devoted father. He welcomes Cleveland back with open arms and never once asks them to take back every terrible and mean thing they said and did. By returning to Cleveland, he shows all of us how to love and forgive the ill-deserving.

Yes, LeBron, you have certainly shown me that you are much more than a high-priced basketball diva. I will miss you in Miami but am happy to welcome you into the grace club…for it is here that you will find peace and play the game of basketball with a much lighter heart and more passion than ever.

16 Comments
  • David says:

    Nice article, pastor. I think his actions are representative of forgiveness like Paul encourages at the end of Ephesians 4. Very cool! I hope that he has truly forgiven from the heart, because I think you are right that it will ‘lighten the load’ that bitterness can bring.

  • DP says:

    Great perspective here. I so appreciate it- people do change jobs & move. He had a job offer & took it. Maybe the way he announced it was excessive & hurtful to some but, it sounds like he learned from mistakes & hopefully Cleveland has too. One of the greatest athletes & marketing phenoms ever, had to be vulnerable. He had to ask himself “if I go back, open myself up, be truthful, admit my faults. Will I be accepted?” many of us are never that vulnerable. Lebron did it in front of the world. I appreciate the way he did it. I think the answer is yes, he has been accepted. A city now has hope… Hope, faith, Grace, humility, – lots of great lessons through his journey. Let’s use this as an opportunity to check ourselves. Thanks again for the great article Tullian- well done, well done Miami and well done Lebron.

  • Heather Celli says:

    Great article pastor Tullian. What an opportunity for LeBron to return home to Cleveland. LeBron must feel immensely free to be home. True freedom breeds deep passion. The best is yet to come for Cleveland!!!

  • Karen Cochrane says:

    We are very sad to see him go, too (especially a little boy in our house named James). However, thank you for this article and putting things into perspective. What a great 4 years it was having him part of the Heat! He will be missed!

  • Jennifer Lengwin says:

    Beautifully said. So much for each of us to learn here. Thank you.

  • […] This post from Heat fan and pastor Tullian Tchividjian is really good. For the full article, just go here. […]

  • Gary Monzillo says:

    Tullian, please stick to things you know about. It’s obvious to anyone who knows LeBron that his decision is all about himself and not his city. Does anyone really think if the Heat would have won this year and continued to build up their roster that he would have bolted, or if Cleveland didn’t have all those young players and future draft picks that he would have suddenly become so homesick? The fact that he signs a deal with a one year backout clause confirms the fact that LeBron will do what is best for LeBron, magnanimous statements notwithstanding. If he was so intent on going home, why did he wait so long and thus deprive Riley and the Heat the opportunity to go after some of the other star free agents who were coming our as well and to negotiate with others with the full knowledge of the future? The article bleeds warm and fuzzy, but this guy’s not worth it. Please don’t waste anyone’s time with your sports commentaries. We’ve heard more than enough of them lately.

  • Sarah says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. I never looked at it like that. Thanks for showing us a different side of the story called grace.

  • Gerry P says:

    First of all this is coming from a Celtic fan. But I agree with Gary m. Lebron is your typical selfish athletes and he is doing what is best for Lebron. Pastor please do not compare Lebron to the Grace The Lord has given us. But tullian I do enjoy your ministry but you are way off base on this one. That is just my opinion.

  • Jonathan williams says:

    Go Spurs!

  • Wendy ...Secure in Christ says:

    I don’t know a thing about NBA or NFL or anything of the sort, but this I know, if our eyes are open, by faith we can see His Grace anywhere. But mainly, I just want to take the opportunity to say Happy Birthday to our favorite preacher. ;) Happy Birthday Tullian! God bless you! Keep the good work. We are so thankful for you brother. We love you and pray for you in our home. We can’t wait to meet you at Liberate 2014 Lord willing. :)

  • Wendy ...Secure in Christ says:

    Oops Liberate 2015 :D

  • Rick Gaul says:

    Well said! I am impressed with LeBron and his comments and his decision at this point in his life. Pastor, you summed up his letter and put another well thought out perspective to it! Thank you both LeBron and Pastor Tullion! We are all better in life with Grace in our lives as Jesus taught and lived to show us the way!

  • Tony A. says:

    Don’t forget people, that this is still WADE COUNTY. LBJ was a rental, and a good one. Wish him the best.

  • Raul says:

    LBJ had to run home after gettiing schooled by the Spurs. We will find out in a year or two if LBJ really meant to come back home because he was home sick.

  • […] LeBron is Back! – an interesting article from Tullian who resides in Florida and says LeBron is showing a perfect example of what grace is all about. […]

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