LeBron James and the pursuit of happiness

It was only yesterday that I was taking Art Woolf, Vermont’s Loudest Economist, to task for belittling the financial impact of agriculture in Vermont. And, on top of that, closing his column with a cutting reference to farmers who “do it as much for their own enjoyment as for the monetary benefits it brings them.”

Of course. And as I said in response, almost everyone makes major life choices for non-financial reasons. They do things for family, for the mind, heart, and soul. Sure, money has its place; but if all of us made our decisions solely (or primarily) for the money, this world would be a sad, desperate place. That’s why our founders invoked “the pursuit of happiness” instead of “the pursuit of maximum profit.”

And now we have LeBron James ignoring all the pundits and the ass-kissers and the main-chancers, and going home to Cleveland.

Cleveland!

He could have gone back to South Beach, or taken his talents to Madison Square Garden, Chicago, or Los Angeles. He could have had his pick of major media markets, warm-weather destinations, and/or tax havens.

He chose Cleveland. The Mistake By The Lake. The place where the river caught fire. The place whose most famous celebrity, until now, was Drew Carey. (All due respect to Pere Ubu.) Inspiration for the Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video. 

Why? The title of his as-told-to essay for Sports Illustrated says it all: “I’m coming home.” And went on to explain that life is bigger than sport:

I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio… to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

He made his decision because trying to win in Cleveland will be more rewarding than just plain winning anywhere else. Because he feels a deeper obligation to the place he grew up.

As a guy who comes from southeast Michigan, I can empathize. If I had the opportunity to do something special for Detroit, I’d pack up and move in a heartbeat.

Hardly anybody gets to make such a choice. I’m pretty sure I never will. But reading LeBron’s words made me happy inside. It affirmed my belief that, Art Woolf notwithstanding, there’s more to life than money.

Postscript. Yes, I know LeBron will be richly rewarded for playing in Cleveland. But he would have gotten just as much anywhere else — and he could have reaped far greater indirect rewards (sponsorships, endorsements, connections, post-sports opportunities) in a larger, more important city. But home was more important.

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