I’ve noticed something truly interesting about the way that LeBron James has carried himself during the 2014/2015 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and I believe that it is the reason that the entire team is experiencing success. LeBron has finally turned into a leader.
Let’s go back in time for a minute: His first go around with the Cavs was phenomenal, sure, but it produced no rings and left many Cleveland fans bitter and betrayed. When James came to Miami, he battled bouts of disappearance (2011 Finals), while also taking turns with Dwyane Wade for the leadership mantle even while winning Finals MVP’s. It didn’t hurt that he had another future hall of famer in Chris Bosh.
Soon after, James’ return to the Cavs came with the promise of leadership – his July 11 letter to Sports Illustrated contained two separate references to leadership:
“I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys”
“I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously”.
I’ll be honest though: I was skeptical about James’ leadership proclamations. And when the season started off badly, James promptly went on a 2 week vacation (to Miami of all places!!). I and many other NBA fans wondered if LeBron regretted the mess he got himself into. And I sure as hell didn’t think he was a leader.
And then the playoffs happened. An undersized, somewhat slow shooting guard with a shaky jumper named Mathew Dellavedova started making noise in the second round against the Bulls, filling in nicely for both Jr Smith and Kyrie Irving. Sure, he made some noise for some wrong reasons, as his scrappy play caused injuries to a number of opponents. But Delly started to become a legit rotation who provided 17 points in the closeout game against the Bulls, and emerged as a legit first guard off the bench during the Hawks series. His 8.8 points per game in the last 2 rounds are nearly double his 4.8 during the regular season.
So, what does Delly have to do with LeBron’s leadership? Everything. When I heard the postgame interview after the Cavs closed out the Bulls, I began to understand the subtle, behind the scenes root of LeBron’s leadership:
“Matthew Dellavedova, he grew up playing rugby, so you know he’s the toughest guy on the team…He went to St Mary’s out west and you know he had a magical shot in the tournament that people will remember. He’s just a guy that works extremely hard, man, and we’re blessed to have a guy like that.”
This quote means a lot on many levels. The fact that LeBron is citing background facts about a bench player on his team means that he went out of his way to learn about Delly’s background, in an effort to create a real team bond, as a leader should. (I’ll bet you 10 Australian dollars that JR Smith doesn’t know where Delly went to school).
There are many other LeBron quotes in which he defends Delly, including at the 2:18 mark of this interview:
But what I learned from that seemingly innocuous quote in which LeBron showed that he knows more than just his teammates names and numbers is that leadership goes a long way. In learning, studying, and creating camaraderie with bench players, a leader is able to extract the most from his teammates. I believe that LeBron’s confidence and reaching out to his teammates is what allowed and caused them to flourish.
Delly is playing with one of the greatest of all time, and the reason he is flourishing is because LeBron’s confidence in him gave him what he needed to go out on the court and produce without fear, mistakes, or repercussions. Now that’s what a leader does.
Written by Shlomo Wiesen (firstname.lastname@example.org)