the NBA has no soul and it’s a mirror we’re all looking into

LeBron James..."The Decision"LeBron James made “The Decision” on Thursday, July 8 @ around 8:3o pm CST or so.  Where were you?  Who were you with?  What was your first reaction when you found out where he was going to be playing next season?

Really?  It changed your life, too?


First, know that while I live in the SW suburbs of Chicago this is not coming from a scorned Chicago Bulls fan.  I’m not going to waste my time ripping LeBron simply because he’s Even-Richer LeBron or because he didn’t choose to come to Chicago.  My thoughts would likely be the same either way.  This has been one more convincing case-in-point of something that’s simmered inside of me for a while.

Actually, in many ways, this article has nothing to do with “LBJ.”  (On a side note, I could have sworn that moniker was owned by a below-average President we once had, but I guess not now.)  LeBron doesn’t seem like a bad guy…as best as I can evaluate by looking at him through high-definition.  That he’s a gazillionaire isn’t a problem for me, either.  What I am sensing is not really about LeBron James and his recent “Decision.”  It’s just that this “profound moment” that “all have been waiting for” “with baited breath” is just another showcase of a development in our culture.  (When I say development, I mean deterioration.)

My frustration resides in the fact that a cultural platform like ESPN (along with all front-page news and news media) would label what happened that evening with something as dramatic as “The Decision”–adding a special soundtrack to boot.  As if it mattered.  As if the sun will come up from some different direction.  As if poverty will have been eradicated by it.  As if–by sudden fiat–the “King” made all nuclear weapons evaporate and all sharp-edged things permanently rounded.  As if “King James” actually transformed a planet of people to adopt the very life principles resident in the very Bible from which his name is lifted.

I am fairly certain that more people in America probably watched his decision revealed at his news conference at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America than actually did a kind thing for a boy or girl who needed it.  You see, this is what I am getting at.  There was something soul-less and disconnected and contrived about it all.  Something superficially present, but not-real at the same time.

My observation has little to do with Miami or South Beach or D-Wade or a suddenly now-important Chris Bosh.  I feel bad for Cleveland, but that’s not it, either.  It’s that we seem to see very little REAL in our world anymore.

I went to a Chicago Bulls game this past season.  And while I was grateful for the free tickets (thanks, Lauren), it was empty.  Don’t get me wrong.  The place was packed and everyone clapped in cadence when the digital screen said to…and yelled at all the appropriate moments…but I knew instinctively that no one meant it.  Least of all, me.  (I know, I’m a downer.)

The NBA (the National Basketball Association for those of you who just looked up from Dungeons and Dragons, your knitting, or your iPhone app) lacks a soul that could easily be argued it once had.  And while I could count out a list of the who’s and why’s (Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, “The Chief” Robert Parish, the ugliest player in the game–Dennis Johnson, Kareem, Dr. J., Lakers vs. Celtics, Bulls vs. Pistons, Michael, Laimbeer…I could go on and on…), that’s not it.  The NBA used to have a soul that is not present today.

And it’s not a marketing or personality difference from back then.  It’s that America itself used to have a soul.  We had a soul about rights and wrongs.  We would take up arms if there was an injustice.  Now, we only take up arms when there is something financial or geo-political at stake.  (Ask Darfur about that.)  Our soul used to show up in our music, art, movies, and writings.  Now, “soul” is a clever marketing strategy.  Today, they call tech innovations like the iPad “revolutions.”  Really?  I thought words like that were reserved for a coup of ideas like our standing up for our individual freedoms in the 1770s or civil rights’ stands made famous in the 1960s.  Revolutions really shouldn’t be defined by how thin a hand-held device can get or how bright or touch-responsive its display is.

Revolutions, so defined, are exactly how we have gotten to a place in our culture where a guy who can put a rubber ball through metal and rope gets his own hour-long show to announce a “Decision” that is somehow defined as really, really important for all of us.  And as sure as tomorrow will come, one guy in Miami will name his new baby boy LeBron and recycle the quandary we are in, but some of us can try something else.

Solutions are not easy in our culture, because very few people believe (and I mean truly believe) in much of anything.  Yes, we go to churches (slightly over 40% of us do at least), we have team colors for our favorite pro, college, and high school teams, we “like” Facebook pages honoring our choice TV shows and musical artists, but DO WE BELIEVE IN WHAT OUR CULTURE OFFERS US?  Believe?  No, not really.  Because as soon as we experience it, it’s over.  It has little or no soul.

When was the last time you heard someone in our culture talk about eternity?

Even the most religious of church-goers avoid risky talk like that.  Even devoted religious people on the right and the left sides of the religio-prism limit their dialogues to prayer in schools, abortion, big-haired televangelists, environmentalism, or health care coverage for the poor.  Believe me, I see these discussions from all of my connections everyday on Facebook.  (Yes, I’m still a little superficial myself and have my own account, too.)  Somehow those topics feel safer to discuss than eternity.

Eternity.  What happens after this?  Does this life rate as some larger preparation or test (or whatever) for what’s coming after we say goodbye to this temporary shell?  Where does ETERNITY get brought into the cultural discussion?  Why doesn’t LeBron’s position on eternity get a special news conference?  I mean, the Miami Heat organization probably won’t even be in actual existence a 100 years from now.  But, LeBron will be.  Just… on one side of eternity’s threshold or the other.  (He’s superhuman, so he may live to be 125.  Who knows?)

If this has sounded in any way like a rant or the tantrum of a cranky old person, please forgive me.  It’s just a frustration that the culture as a whole seems preoccupied.  Preoccupied with stuff they’ll laugh at themselves about a decade from now.  Stuff they don’t really care about, but do anyway.  Like jump-up parties for their kids, going to chain restaurants, or shallowly discussing what the newspeople tell us is the crisis of the day.  We’re not really into it, but…it’s what you do.

And some of us will “do” that for our three-score and ten.  And suddenly life will come to its certain conclusion and we’ll have barely–if ever–felt the Soul of Life.  We’ll have busied ourselves on everything but the One and those around us that mattered most.  It would be tragic to miss what our soul most wants and has access to because we have preoccupied ourselves on what Time magazine, earlier this year, called the mundane “Bore.”  It’s tragic because God Himself says that He has “planted eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11–nlt).  Our soul is right there.  Our soul’s God is right there…beneath the noise, the unsatisfying amusements, and un-captivating preoccupations.  Waiting for us.  Desiring for us what WE most want.

We all ought to be forced to have a news conference every time we forget this and be asked to render “The Decision.”  (Maybe you’ll get your own soundtrack.)

We need to have our soul tested.  Because Heaven is better than South Beach.

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