We are poor.
Lebron James. Lebron “the freaking athlete icon” James signed a 100 million dollar deal. He was quite giddy and excited. In the same day, one of his investments in Liverpool Football Club had an uptick because they won the most prestigious soccer competition in the world. Personally, I am not happy because I am a Chelsea fan but I am a Lebron fan.
When people ask me what basketball team do I support? I respond consistently, “Lebron James”. I am not a bandwagon fan, I just believe the man is the G.O.A.T. We need more rings to flatten the M.J. bandwagon tire. My affiliation for Lebron is rooted in his decision. The famous — “the Decision” when he took his talents to south beach and changed the landscape of the NBA.
Lebron is my G.O.A.T. because he represents an entirely different breed of a black man. You see, sports is the best meritocracy left in the world. There is an alignment between the owners and the players. The owners recognize their need for these athletes to perform for true competition to win. The alignment is beautiful because their purses are in alignment too. The greater the athletes perform, the greater the opportunities they present their owners. It is modern day gladiators except with free willing men.
Lebron is my G.O.A.T. because more than any athletic exploit, he changed the fabric of sports and tilted the power in favor of the majority but in a peaceful coup within the chess framework afforded him. Lebron recognized his genius, his fame, his endearment, his following, his charisma, his athletic skills. What Lebron really recognized were his assets. Not his ass, as fine as it might be to his wife but his assets. He took them all and poker style went all in. The owners, media, and other members of the ownership structure were caught off guard and afraid to match his balls.
Here is what doesnt get told often enough. The media and all proceeded to tear him down. The NBA saw his power and initiated a power transition. They kicked in motion the mechanism to have another face arise and replace Lebron. He had gone from a mere darling to a bonifide god. The gods among us, the elites are not used to mere mortals seizing power that drastically, that quickly, that boldly, that confrontationally and all without permission. He didn’t resist arrest but he used the law better than the cop and the judge.
The sweetest part was the unraveling of the gods mechanisms to replace a mere mortal. The people had developed such an affinity for Lebron that the replacement mechanism only generated a new set of emotionally charged followers. Now in addition to those who love Lebron, there arose even more that hated him. The man the gods sought to replace doubled their revenue and walked right into the halls of the gods where he was welcome with his own table and chair.
Michael Jordan was an incredible athlete but he never had the wits or interest to usurp power and break the chains to create new possibilities. Jordan was content being subservient and well compensated.
Back to the point, did you know with all the power, admiration and accolade. Even with attaining god status. Lebron is still worth less than a billion dollars. But did you know that with assets worth less than a billion dollars, Lebron has put a seismic dent in what the history of American will say when it looks back. The trajectory of America has changed and it’s started with one of ours going into places he isn’t welcomed, to exchange what he is blessed with to get what he needs- first for himself and now for us- his people.
Notice the word “needs.” The truth is Lebron is not living in luxury. Everything he has is committed to a cause greater than him. A cause that so many should be invested in but so few see, grasp and have the wits to play the chess to win. Lebron is my G.O.A.T. because his super power is his mind. He plays chess at levels educated men cannot.
Herein lies my sorrow. Lebron. The G.O.A.T. The chess master. The coup plotter. The god. The black god. Lebron, the closest thing we have to black power is broke. The handicap of the black experience is perfectly captured in the dilemma of Lebron. We are full of ideas, full of creativity, full of the will to create, to entertain but for most of us, our treasures, our skills through many generations continue to be undervalued, devalued at wholesale negotiations but sold at astronomical retail prices by elite monopolists.
They buy what we offer for cheap and make it seem like we are overpaid within the structure of comparison to our peers yet in the black market competiting for what we offer that they have monopoly over, our capacity, creativity, impact is resold at a premium.
What does this do? However much we make becomes insignificant to buy and keep buying what we need because we only get a fraction of the true demand and in exchange they have a monopoly of on supply. Lebron is broke. Not Lebron the dad but Lebron the god. As powerful as he is. He only pulls in just enough to invest in incremental social change.
On the Flip side. Elon Musk, our darling innovator, is painted as truly broke but his assets make Lebron’s a rounding error. If you ask the media who is broke, Lebron or Musk? The resounding answer in CNN and Washington Post will be Musk. He has no money to spend, he is living on loans they will say. Yet, he has no problem knocking down his personal aspirations with merely bumps on the road.
As Africans, we are poor. The fundamental result of decades of slavery is an economic and financial gulf that feels representative of employees trying to catch CEOs while being stuck in a company the CEO owns.
We don’t need to catch anyone but can we at least get the boss to stop paying salary that barely keeps up with inflation. Can the economic and compensation structures remove the chains that bind us and bend towards a more merit driven compensation structure. The black population want to compete fairly. We do not want to tear down America. We just want to make our own assets — charisma, skill, attitude, creativity etc — our supply, available to retail, whole sale, even black market demand directly and freely. In the end, what we create and the highest value on it makes the republic stronger.
Lebron, thanks for the economic lessons. Thanks even now for educating the NBA and players like Kyrie that it’s not about breaking the rules out of frustration for losing but that it’s about doing the work. The work to learn the rules better than those who made it and exploiting not merely the mainstream rules but even the legal and stealth ones. The NBA season like many black people’s jobs are not the problem. They are the vehicle upon which change rests. Let’s fight to make them more fair and more merit based. Let’s make compensation structure around the value we bring individually and when we feel underpaid, let’s have the free market to negotiate and get better to spend on the education, creation of new social systems that look, feel and speak like us.
Without the creation of better, we’ll be stuck in a cycle of stagnation with occasional surge in frustration.
Lebron is an example of what black people can do for ourselves and for the country. With as much handicap as even he has, he is changing history in a unifying way. What we need, what we want is to get him help. What we want is more merit based structures like the NBA. In the same sports world, you have the MMA which is a perfect example of corporate America. How do we shift from an elite stranglehold of society to a diversity incentivized structure where compensation isn’t based on the time you put in and an arbitrary value placed on your time at a negotiation table with a monopolist. But instead, compensation is based on the true value you provide adjusted overtime through transparent insights into your work’s worth.