What does LeBron James’ first ring signify? Part 1

As expected, LeBron James has finally won his first championship. I’d like to share my thought on the mythological and archetypal significance of his first ring. This is the first installment of a three article series. Let’s go!

The hero's journey

About James-Wade relationship

The major problem with the Heat last year was that both James and Wade claimed themselves as “the leader(s)” of the team. To me, that was wrong on three levels:

First, organizations, more specifically competitive organizations (such as a professional basketball team) cannot have multiple leaders. Listen to athletes and you will hear them utter terms such as “going to war”, “fighting battles”, and “being warriors.” Clearly, the dominant archetype of professional sport is “war”. An army requires unquestioned discipline from its warriors. That’s why military hierarchy exists. During war, a battle unit cannot have 2 commanders. By the same token,a basketball team cannot have two leaders.

Second, “the two-leader storyline” did not make any sense. Every story needs A hero. And every hero needs A sidekick. (Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza, Sherlock Holmes’ Doctor Watson, Batman’s Robin, and Jordan’s Pippen) In order for a storyline to be compelling, we need A central figure that we can identify ourselves with. Last year James and Wade acted as two lead actors. That did not make sense.It did not work. This year, James became THE hero and Wade became THE sidekick and it worked like a charm. It is not a coincidence.

Finally, whoever has a better story always wins! As a storyline, James was THE choice, not Wade. As great as Wade is, his story was not as compelling as that of James’. That’s exactly the same reason why Jordan’s storyline was more compelling than that of Magic’s, even though the latter was as gifted a player as the former. We remember Jordan’s story better, not because it was more recent, but because it follows the Monomyth structure of the great Joseph Campbell (R.I.P).

About James being the hero of the story

As I mentioned earlier, it had to be James. Not Wade, not Bosh, but James: Because he is the archetypal hero that Americans fall in love with. About 60 years ago, Joseph Campbell, the greatest mythologist of our time, compared different myths, from different eras, from different cultures. Then, he identified a genius pattern, which he called the Hero’s Journey or the Monomyth. Here is how Wikipedia summarizes it:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

The Monomyth, which is the archetypal journey, is very important, because it helped shaped the modern American culture, and eventually the global culture. George Lucas created the Star Wars based on Campbell’s theory. Then, all major box office hits, from Rocky to Harry Potter, from Avatar to Spiderman and from all of Disney’s movies to Matrix, followed the same exact formula. Not surprisingly, most of today’s myths and culture are created in the US and then exported to the rest of the world. They become mainstream and started to be lived by everyone. When you look closely, you will see Steve Jobs’ life story followed the Monomyth as well. So did Muhammad Ali’s. And so did Michael Jordan’s. When we look at the American Dream, we see the Monomyth. That’s why people call Jordan the greatest of all times, that’s why Ali is still at the mountaintop and that’s why everybody looks for a CEO like Jobs.

James has that potential. That’s why he has a gigantic tattoo on his back saying “Chosen1”. Probably he had that tattoo unknowingly, which shows us the mindboggling power of archetypes. He IS the hero Americans have been waiting and yearning for. So, it had to be him.

On the next post, we will talk about why James’ popularity is recovering and how his storyline compares to that of Michael Jordan’s.

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Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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5 Replies to “What does LeBron James’ first ring signify? Part 1”

  1. Do you have any other basketball brand etc.discuss? Then sport discuss to talk on before I move to your other brand etc. discuss to learn from.

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for the series of comments you left. I have not written about the brand strategy aspect of basketball in some years. Going forward, I don’t forecast more such articles. But if things change, I will keep you posted!

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