I’m fascinated by LeBron James’ latest Nike commercial.
“The Decision” was a mistake. I take the very existence of this commercial as an admission of such, even if James never explicitly says so in the ad. I hated that ESPN aired “The Decision” and I hate that I watched it. Where an athlete like LeBron chooses to “take his talents” should never have been hyped into an “event,” but I’m a willing participant in the culture that fuels the hype machine, so I’ll stop complaining about the very thing I’ve helped create and move on to something positive.
I think this ad is brilliant on a number of levels. It’s funny, honest, and introspective. Most athlete’s respond to criticism by sitting down and doing an interview with Bob Costas, but James responds with a 90 second commercial in which he addresses the fallout from his decision in a playful, yet still serious, way.
The Don Johnson cameo was a welcome surprise and the shot he takes at Charles Barkley is well-placed. Is he also taking a shot at Jordan in the Hall of Fame scene? If so, then it’s a bold move, but only just so, especially now that MJ is too old for a comeback.
Of course, Nike is smart to use this ad as a way to keep the conversation going. We must never forget that this is anything but a public service announcement.
What I see in this ad is someone who is struggling to work through the issue of self-differentiation, and in public no less.
LeBron had a decision to make. A decision about what to do with his life, his talents, his legacy. It was a decision that gave him an opportunity to define his sense of “self.” Like the rest of us, Lebron is a member of several communities (familial, social, and professional), all of whom have an opinion about what he should do with his life. There was no way he could make a decision for himself without disappointing a least a few of the communities to which he is connected, either by birth or by choice.
What should I do?
It’s a question every single person has to answer for themselves as they move toward maturity.
Most of us don’t have to make such decisions while an entire city holds its breath, hoping against hope that we won’t break its heart, but we still have to make tough decisions that not everyone around us will appreciate or even understand.
Am I saying that LeBron made a self-differentiated decision? No. I have no idea why he chose Miami. He’s the only one who knows why he did what he did and what motivated his decision. Even if Miami was the right choice for him, he still bungled the implementation, which is the other half of the battle. Making a decision and then saying, “To hell with everyone who disagrees,” is not self-differentiation. It’s immaturity.
Most people don’t have a problem with LeBron choosing to leave Cleveland. Their problem is the way he announced his departure. He declared his position, but did so in a way that not only disappointed the people of Cleveland, but cut off the relationship entirely.
The art of self-differentiation is maintaining a sense of self while remaining connected to the community that we are lovingly, yet firmly, refusing to let control us. This is extremely hard to do and for most of us takes a lifetime of practice. (For more on this, I recommend the writings of Murray Bowen or Edwin Friedman.)
If you encounter a truly self-differentiated person, take a picture, because they’re hard to find.
It’s staggering how many people have never made a self-differentiated decision in their life. They never do what they know they need to do, and instead spend their whole lives doing what they think their parents, friends, or peers want them to do.
What should I do?
A natural question for anyone who finds himself at a crossroads. A hard question for anyone grappling with just how difficult it is to become a mature, self-differentiated human being.
Not bad for a shoe commercial.