Everybody's talking about Lebron James and his quick exit in Game 6 on Saturday night. After losing the game, James bolted for the locker room never shaking a hand, skipped the post-game news conference and headed home. After catching up to him more than a day later, all Lebron could muster up for his show of disrespect was:

"I’m a winner. It’s not being a poor sport or anything like that. You know me, I’m a competitor. If somebody beats you up, you’re not going to congratulate them, it doesn’t make sense for me to go over and shake somebody’s hand."
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports wrote an article about it today. The sentiment around the blogosphere is mostly about the same, that Lebron is a sore loser and nobody around him wants to tell him that because they coddle him. Yes, he acted selfish and immature and nobody around him wants to chew him out, but why is that?

What I see missing in all the chatter is some of the psychological reasons why Lebron acted the way he did. Certainly, some of it can be blamed on celebrity culture, or too much money too young. But what nobody is talking about is Lebron's upbringing, and specifically the lack of a strong male-figure growing up. Sure, he lived with some coaches in between years when his mother was unable to take care of him, but nothing can substitute for the real father figure that Lebron never had.

In Wojnarowski's article, he states that Kobe never acted that way when he lost (Kobe grew up privileged with a father who was a professional basketball player and coached him in high school). Jordan always shook hands graciously when losing to the Pistons (Jordan was known to be really close to his father). Wojnarowski lists Isiah Thomas as an example of a supposed classy guy who walked out without shaking hands when the Pistons lost to the Bulls (Thomas's father left his family of 8 kids when he was just 3 years old).

Am I saying that if one grows up fatherless they will always act immature, and if one grows up with 2 parents they will always act normally? No, there are examples of guys who grew up without fathers or had abusive fathers and still act appropriately like Julius Erving or Larry Bird, and vice versa (ie. Barry Bonds). Nor am I saying that it's a race issue, because white players who grew up without fathers like Chris Andersen of the Nuggets, or Roger Clemens in the majors, or Jeremy Shockey in the NFL have all also exhibited similar attitude problems.

With this being June and Father's Day right around the corner, Lebron's behavior serves to underscore the point that fathers make a difference. Lebron never learned how to be gracious in defeat because those kinds of hard life lessons are usually learned from your father which Lebron never really had. The values we hold as individuals are in large part given to us by our parents, and when one or two of your parents are absent, where will those values come from?? Nobody around Lebron is going to tell him he acted like baby and he should apologize because that is something a father would tell him, not his teammates, not the owner. Coaches, teachers, and mentors can help, but nothing can substitute for the real thing.


  1. Aree  

    June 2, 2009 at 8:49 AM

    I always appreciated your basketball analysis, but this armchair psychology is a bit of a stretch, sorry. Sure LeBron should have showed more sportsmanship (though I think the issue is overblown), but the only person who know why he acted that way is himself.

  2. bruchu  

    June 2, 2009 at 12:53 PM

    The issue at hand is basically one of morals and ethics. You and I can argue about what is moral because morals are defined by personal conduct. In other words, what I feel is moral, you may find immoral or amoral. Lebron's morals obviously differ from my morals as can be seen from his statement I quoted. Therefore, the issue is not one of morality.

    Rather, the "issue" that is being overblown as you state is one of ethics. Sportsmanship is ethics, it is professional conduct as defined by the society at large. Lebron has violated the rules that govern socially acceptable behavior in the realm of sports.

    The question thus becomes, why does Lebron's notion of ethics differ from the society-at-large (yourself included)? What differences in the human experience can possibly explain why we all agree on what ethical behavior is (sportsmanship), but Lebron cannot? Because this is a question of ethics and not morality, the discourse of analysis is fundamentally about sociology. In other words, Lebron cannot possibly answer why he acted the way he did because his pathology is a product of his environment and background.