Lead Stories

Beyond basketball

"Beyond basketball" Continued...

That's a great question and it's something I wasn't always successful with. For example, in their junior year, I had coached [LeBron, Dru, Willie, and Sian] for so long that they weren't hearing me anymore. They were still winning and their arrogance was growing as their stars were rising. Until they were humbled by losing state that year.

Now I try to nip that in the bud. My team this year were state champions, and we have a pretty young team-I started three sophomores. To them I use the example of what happened with Dru and LeBron and how they missed their chance at the state championship their junior year because they got so caught up in the hype about themselves. I tell the guys, "This is something bigger than you. What we do here is bigger than the individual, and if you make it about you as an individual, no matter how good you are, you can lose."

You can always be replaced and life will, in its own way, move you out if you don't understand that you need to be thankful that you are blessed with certain God-given talents. You need to use them to His glory and you need to defer to your teammates because we never reach any success all by ourselves.

I talk to my team about seven principles: humility, servanthood, thankfulness, integrity, discipline, passion, and unity-those principles that, if you live by these things, you're going to be a person of good character. The principles Christ taught are real, and if you apply them, your life will not necessarily be easy, but you will stand out in our world as extraordinary, and you'll be able to weather whatever storm comes. I was reading a Scripture in a men's Bible study I'm a part of this morning about how our foundation is built on a rock. I try to impart that truth to every kid who plays for me. Now they may not all receive it-and that's not my job to make sure they receive it-my job is to offer the coaching.
Q. A lot of people might say that humility, thankfulness and servanthood aren't something you see a lot of in professional sports these days. If anything, it often seems like entitlement and self-promotion characterize the industry.

To a certain degree that's true. And I think as far as it is true a lot of that has to do with our culture's reaction to these young men and the way we reward them for the talent they possess and the entertainment value they give us. I still think there are number of men out there who are exceptional athletes but who recognize that they have a platform that's both a blessing and an obligation. But those aren't the stories the media highlights because they're not as juicy to audiences as the downfalls. We have to decide that we're as interested in those stories. Because there are a lot of guys in the league that are quietly going about doing it the right way, and they never get the headlines because the feel-good stuff doesn't sell as well. Just as we've made those kind of swaggering attitudes the face of professional sports we can change it by showing more interest in guys displaying Christ-like qualities.
Q. Can you expand on how you personally handled that with a kid like LeBron, who was already getting national media attention as a sophomore in high school?

You know, honestly, there were times I wanted to step outside my house and just scream because we were at the forefront of the trend of making high school sports a national story, right when ESPN realized it was something they could market. So there was no one I could ask about coaching a kid who's 16 and on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That had never happened before, and, of course, the entire city of Akron was paying attention. They were trying times. And I think a couple dynamics really helped us through it.

First, I made the decision that I was going to coach an entire team, I wasn't just going to coach LeBron. Talented as he was, he was part of a team, and I wasn't going to allow his celebrity to eclipse the team. So I committed to coaching him the way I'd always coached him, and he respected that. I was fortunate that I had earned his trust from a young kid. He knew that no matter what happened I loved him, and that I'd loved him before all the hype. And my love wasn't going to change. Even if it had to be tough love, which sometimes it did, it was still love, and he and the other boys knew that.


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