It’s weird. My favorite LeBron James moment is not on the court and does not showcase any one of LeBron’s infinite basketball skills. It’s not even real life. It was a cameo in the Season 6 finale of the TV series Entourage.
The brief scene went like this: LeBron, playing himself, meets actor Vincent Chase and his crew on the airport while in transit to Cleveland with Matt Damon, also playing himself, for a “charitable mission.” All episode long, Matt Damon had been Jason Bourne-ing Vince (I want a big fucking check from you, Vince!) to donate to his charity, which helps children around the world.
Vince, backed into a corner, vows to match LeBron’s contribution to Matt’s charity, but as it turns out, LeBron gave $1 million—an amount a struggling actor like Vince can’t afford. LeBron convinces him to give $150,000 instead, you know, “for the kids.”
The LeBron bit lasted for less than two minutes, but it showed enough LeBron to make him seem likable. Entourage is known for its sexy women, flashy cars, and exaggerated lifestyles of the rich and famous. LeBron’s appearance showed none of these; it was all about giving to charity to help the children. LeBron’s brand has always been about being unselfish. His Entourage cameo magnified this. It’s fiction, but also not.
When the episode came out in ’09, LeBron was already the reigning MVP, but he was still perfecting the style of play that would elevate him to legendary status, the controlled playmaking style that we would get used to—and for some, loathe—for the next eight years.
LeBron’s unselfishness has been both a strength and weakness, and his apparent lack of a killer instinct that fueled the greats before him (MJ, Kobe) has been well-documented. A great example of this, um, “flaw”, is at the 2012 All-Star Game, when LeBron—guarded by Kobe, no less—passed up on taking the game-winning shot twice, opting to pass and make the correct basketball play.
The final play ended with a costly turnover committed by an errant pass from LeBron. But the criticism didn’t end there: “LeBron should’ve taken the last shot.” “Jordan would never give up the chance to win the game.” “Kobe would shoot.” “LeBron is scared.”
Of course, the “LeBron is scared” narrative goes on a difference direction when he does take the biggest shot of the game, like that time he hit a game-winning 3 at the buzzer to win Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals against the Orlando Magic. Or that time he hit a buzzer beater against the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Just like the real-life entourage of his own, criticism follows The King wherever he goes. And it varies depending on which LeBron storyline were on. The most awesome professional wrestlers (Stone Cold, The Rock, HBK), they can straddle between being heel and being a good guy with ease, dominating at either. The most versatile actors, are the same, juggling between heroine-villain roles as easy as flicking on a switch.
LeBron is that same dude. He’s not quite the master thespian, but his limited screen time on Saturday Night Live, late night talk shows, Trainwreck, and Entourage shows a side of him that just wants to entertain. On the court, this means making the ridiculous no-look cross court pass to the open man or completing a divine chase-down block. There’s also the occasional bottle flip challenge at the bench and the ultra rare mock swig off a beer at a playoff game.
Off the court, LeBron is all the things we want him to be. The goofy, petty, laidback guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously. The guy who won’t let go of the chance to wear an Ultimate Warrior shirt after defeating the Golden State Warriors. But also the guy who won’t let go of the injustices in the world without speaking his mind.
LeBron’s Entourage cameo resonated with me, maybe more than it should, because perhaps it portrayed an early version of LeBron that I always wanted to know but never had access to—the guy hanging out with Matt Damon, preaching to Hollywood actors about giving back, giving up his vacation for the kids. It was an early glimpse of the LeBron who chooses not to “stick to sports.”
Because LeBron, for all that has been written and said about him for the past 15-plus years, has turned into that untouchable global icon bigger than basketball. He is bigger than sports.
Screencap from Youtube, Photo from Universal Pictures
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