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LeBron James = Machiavelli???

October 6, 2010

Last night, LeBron James made his very much publicized Miami Heat debut against the Detroit Pistons. As I was sitting in my apartment watching the preseason game, I could not help but to think about the monumental NBA offseason that just had transpired. LeBron James opted not to resign with his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and “take his talents down to South Beach” along with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade to form a superstar team. The Miami Heat are expected not only to contend for an NBA Championship this upcoming season, but for many seasons to come. I thought about everything that had taken place in the past couple of months, from LeBron’s playoff loss to the Boston Celtics to his 1 hour special on ESPN, and could not help notice parallels between himself and Machiavelli. Although I doubt LeBron made “The Decision” based off of Machiavellian concepts, I did notice a slight parallel. I further analyzed LeBron James’ whole career and realized his whole career was somewhat Machiavellian. Let me explain.

In the Prince, Machiavelli argues that a prince should not regard moral good; he should just do whatever necessary to attain his power. While ruling as a prince, he should rule with virtu. With that being said, I believe Machiavelli would tell LeBron to do whatever he could to win a championship. For example, Machiavelli might tell LeBron to bribe the referees, play dirty, flop, etc. LeBron hasn’t done this. However, LeBron has exerted his powers within the rules to do whatever he could to put himself in a position to win championships. Although, LeBron James isn’t a real prince ruling over a sovereign state, he is a NBA player has power that no other NBA player does (Ironically, his nickname is King James). LeBron James indirectly assembled the Cleveland Cavalier’s roster.  Danny Ferry, and told him what he felt the franchise should do in order to win a championship (I will show you what I mean in a timeline below this paragraph). There is not one player that I can think of that has the power to do this in any sport. Players regularly give their opinion, but they do not demand like LeBron does. LeBron has done whatever he has wanted during his time with the Cavaliers. LeBron never won a title in Cleveland. He announces to the whole world he is leaving in a 1 hour special on ESPN, disrespecting the franchise and it’s fans. All this was done to gain attention, and most importantly power. I believe the televised broadcast of “The Decision” was to promote LeBron James more. More attention = More influence = Power = Better chance to WIN A RING!! All this ties back into the Machiavellian concept of doing whatever is possible to gain power.


-Cleveland Cavalier make the 2006-2007 NBA Finals. Cavaliers get swept. LeBron James cries for more help. Cavaliers management brings in Mo Williams during the following offseason.

-During the trade deadline of the 2007-2008 season, Cleveland Cavaliers management brings in more help for LeBron by adding Wally Szcerbiak, Delonte West, Joe Smith, and Ben Wallace.

-Cavaliers get beat in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 2007-2008 playoffs. During the upcoming season, LeBron famously hints about spurning the Cavaliers to join the Knicks, pressuring Cavaliers management to improve their roster.

-In  the 2008-2009 NBA playoffs, LeBron loses to the Magic. LeBron James famously does not shake the opponents hands, a common etiquette. LeBron cries for management to bring in someone to guard Dwight Howard, who dominated the series.

– In the 2009-2010, LeBron James loses AGAIN in the 2nd round of the playoffs to Boston after having the best regular season record. LeBron James is accused of quitting in games 2, 4, and 6 of that series.

-2009-2010 Offseason: LeBron announces on a 1 hour special on ESPN that hes leaving Cleveland for Miami.

One key point Machiavelli brings up in the Prince is the concept of Love vs. Feared. Machiavelli claims that “one ought to be loved and feared; but, since it is difficult to accomplish both at the same time, I maintain it is much safer to be feared than loved, if you have to do without one of the two (Chapter 17, Pg 35).” LeBron James has always enjoyed an amount of success. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the NBA. However, no one really feared LeBron James because come playoff time, everyone knew that LeBron James would disappear and not deliver when the time came. LeBron James has and will always put up great statistics and play lock-down defense. However, his team was never good enough to win a championship. No one was frightened at the prospect of playing the Cavaliers. However, LeBron was always a beloved athlete by many basketball fans. Despite that, LeBron gave up is popularity as one of the most loved athletes, to join Chris Bosh and D-Wade in Miami to form one of the greatest team to ever be assembled (my opinion) in order to win championships. Currently, LeBron is one of the most hated athletes (#6 according to Q scores). LeBron James knew the backlash that he would receive by dumping Cleveland for Miami. However, Miami will inevitably win multiple championships. He sacrificed popularity for to elevate himself onto the same tier as MJ, Bird, Magic etc. LeBron James will be one of the most feared basketball players because you are putting arguably the most dominant player in the NBA with 2 other top 10 players. With all those weapons at his disposal, he will have one of the greatest statistical seasons ever and will dominate his opponents ever more so than he did before. Furthermore, LeBron James is guaranteed to win multiple championships (my opinion although many profession analysts seem to agree). In the NBA, Championships + Stats + MVP’s = Greatness. LeBron will also be extremely motivated to have a career year because he has been bashed by the sports media relentlessly for his relocation to Miami.  LeBron chose the prospect of chasing multiple championships and sacrificing his popularity, something Machiavelli believed one should do.

Feel free to critique my argument and bash me. I find it difficult to put Machiavelli’s thought into a sports context. However, I do see similarities to a certain extent between LBJ and Machiavelli. I tried to write this post so non-basketball fans could understand.

  1. seangordon permalink
    October 7, 2010 1:37 AM

    I really like the connection you are trying to make with Lebron and Machiavellian principles. You say in the beginning of your post that you doubt Lebron was basing his thoughts off of Machiavellian principles. This is an interesting point to consider. While I agree that Lebron did not sit at home with his copy of “The Prince” to think about what he should do, I think its important to realize that Machiavelli’s ideas are in a lot of ways useful to achieve success and are subliminally used by people in their decisions. I’m a big basketball fan myself and while I never really considered all of this in the way you present it, it makes sense. I am “scared” of Lebron to play my favorite teams and in a sense, this really gives him power. And while Lebron may be hated by many non-heat fans for the decisions he made, his being feared still maintains this level of power and the level of publicity the dislike and shock creates increases this power further. Going to the Heat was certainly a unique decision but was arguably the best way for Lebron to secure NBA Championship wins. Does winning ten titles justify “betraying” your old fan and hometown? Perhaps only time will tell.

  2. mattwax permalink
    October 7, 2010 10:37 AM

    I certainly foud this post to be very different and interesting but one difference seems to relate to the fact that Machiavelli said that all of the “princes” actions were for the common good of the general public he served. Now in Lebron’s case he might be doing anything within his “vested” powers to win a championship, eventhough he may be “amoral” in doing so, but he is certainly not helping the league or the fans. He destroyed an entire franchise and left millions of other fans enraged. Some even argue he may have helped to ruin the league by causing such an unbalance of power. So he may act with virtu but the ends are strictly personal goals, he has no intention of bettering the league (the fans-the general population)
    (take what I say with a grain of salt-I’m a Knick fan)

  3. Zac Hiller permalink
    October 7, 2010 12:29 PM

    I definitely agree with your post about Lebron gaining power. The most clever part of Lebron is that he has yet to win a ring. Yeah, he has plenty of MVP awards and legendary statistics but when it comes down to it, its all about winning championships. So why is King James so important? Because like Machiavelli said, “it is better to be feared then loved.” In Cleveland Lebron was a living g-d. He was worshipped. The Cleveland economy basically revolved around Lebron James gear and his performance. But, as i stated earlier, championships is what matter. By joining Bosh and Wade in miami they are now the most feared trio in basketball history. 3 out of the top 5 best basketball players in the league on the same team?!?! Lebron knows a championship is most important and regardless if half the country despises him he has the best chance in Miami. Lebron definitely shows some Machiavellian characteristics in his decision to join the Miami Heat.

  4. Taylor Fields permalink
    October 7, 2010 1:24 PM

    I found your argument accurate and interesting; the parallel between Machiavelli and a modern sports hero was never one I considered. But your ideas were well supported. By making his transition to Miami, he has become one of the most hated sports figures but will, as you mentioned, likely become one of the most successful. I think we need to consider the fact Lebron is hated not only because he ditched his team, but because of the fiscal situation in Cleveland. Like Detroit, Cleveland is not at its best, and it is estimated the Lebron’s trade will result in million of dollars lost for the city. As Zac mentioned this will anger many people, and hate for Lebron will continue to grow. Realistically though, no athlete is loved by anyone. At the end of the day its about the money and success, and I’m sure of Lebron is feeling hated right now, the people of Miami will soon balance out the scale with all the affection gifts money and fame they’ll shower him with when he’s brining home a championship trophy.

  5. crorey permalink
    October 7, 2010 1:24 PM

    I had never really thought of Lebron’s decision in this respect before. I definitely agree that there are many Machiavellian concepts presented throughout Lebron’s career, as you stated throughout your post. In the case of being loved and being feared, he is definitely more feared than ever before now that he has so much superstar support, and he has and will continue to get tons of love from Heat fans. As we stated in my discussion section, you may lose some friends, but you can easily make more. That’s just part of life and part of obtaining power. Lebron is just doing what he needs to do in order to secure his legacy as one of the best players of all time. He is optimizing his chances of winning an NBA championship, which at this point in time, is the only shot critics can legitimately take against him.

  6. Andrew Berman permalink
    October 7, 2010 3:33 PM

    I think you found a perfect contemporary comparison to a Machiavellian prince. Lebron James used Machiavellian tactics to gain power. In addition to your current argument King James uses fortuna in order to gain power. In 2003, Lebron entered the NBA draft with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh (now his teammates). From this moment they all became good friends. Also because they entered the draft the same year, their contracts all had the same temporal commitment, ending this summer. In addition to them entering the draft at the same time, Team USA recently created a strict summer commitment from its players. Because of this commitment Wade, James, and Bosh played on the same team for many summers and strengthened their bond. It was from all this fortuna that Lebron was able to team up with Wade and Bosh and ‘bring his talents to South Beach’.

  7. zsalexa permalink
    October 7, 2010 9:32 PM

    But the crux in the argument becomes allying yourself with others. Certainly basketball being a team sport, one cannot expect a man to do it by himself, but I am certain Machiavelli would object to the fact that he needed two other stars to gain glory. One of Machiavelli’s main arguments is that a man must be remembered for what he accomplishes through virtu, but when you’re no longer the ‘man’ on your own team, how can it truly be virtu? While Machiavelli talked of mercenaries, auxiliaries and mixed armies, I wonder what he would say to equal allies trying to achieve the same thing? Perhaps James, Boshe and Wade are equal ‘princes’ but then how can they be in actual glory?

    In the grand scheme of things, if James wins a multitude of championships with superstars, are they not less glorious than if he had won a few with a team of average talents?

  8. Andrew Babat permalink
    October 9, 2010 9:21 PM

    This is an interesting comparison between Machiavelli and Lebron James. Machiavelli stated people will do whatever is necessary to attain power. By “taking his talents to South Beach,” James did what he thought was the best way to become a global icon. He felt the way to become the best player in the NBA is to win the most championships. Rather than doing what is “morally right” and staying in Cleveland, he decided to play where he has the best chance to win. Also, Lebron knew he would take criticism form Cleveland for broadcasting the “Decision,” but did it anyway because it was an attempt to gain power.

  9. xiaoyzhang permalink
    October 9, 2010 11:47 PM


    I have a few counter arguments to some of the points that you bring up. I disagree with your comment that LeBron James will never be the man on his team. Yes, it is true that LeBron James is playing with two top talents in his team. However, LeBron is a better basketball player than both D-Wade and Bosh, and this is not just my opinion. Every basketball fan who watches basketball with a unbiased eye will agree that LeBron is a better basketball player than D-Wade and Chris Bosh. Therefore, just by looking at talent, LeBron will be the man because he is the better basketball player of the 3. The sports media will always paint LeBron James as the “man” on the team. ESPN, the biggest hype machine in world, has already come out with articles saying LeBron will be the man on the team regardless of D-Wade already winning a championship with the Heat. Furthermore, LeBron James already has hinted he will not take a backseat to anyone. Here is an article of him saying that: The only knock that LeBron will get for joining the Heat is that he couldn’t win a championship by himself in Cleveland and that he had to join 2 top ten talents in the NBA to get one.

    You also hint that Machiavelli might not approve of LeBron joining Chris Bosh and D-Wade in Miami. I disagree. I believe that Machiavelli would absolutely support his decision. LeBron couldn’t win a championship in Cleveland, even after all the time and effort team management spent trying to build a championship caliber support cast around LeBron. LeBron ditched his fans and organization in order to chase his ultimate goal: a NBA championship. Machiavelli argues that one should do whatever possible to achieve his goal, which is exactly what LeBron does in this case.

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