Commentary

What do videos say about LeBron?

Originally Published: December 2, 2010
By Patrick Hruby | Page 2

Sometimes a shoulder bump is just a shoulder bump. Unless it involves LeBron James, in which case bumping shoulders with Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra indicates that: (A) the Heat are in utter disarray; (B) Spoelstra will soon be spending time with his family; (C) James embodies everything that is wrong with the modern American athlete, and quite possibly our doomed common humanity; (D) nothing more than two guys unable to get out of each other's way.

Go ahead. Take your pick.

By now, you've seen the bump heard 'round the world. And perhaps you've viewed previous footage of James bumping former Cleveland Cavs coach Mike Brown, tossing his warm-ups at a ball boy and smacking a water bottle into the stands, too.

What do the videos mean? For insight, Page 2 reached out to a group of experts:

1. What does the James-Spoelstra bump say about the state of their relationship?

Leslie Saunders, a management consultant who specializes in workplace relationships and organizational performance: Considering the fact that it's a new relationship that has already been rumored to be tense, it probably isn't the equivalent of a jovial fist bump. It appeared to be a belligerent move that says, "I make more money than you, you're in my way and I'm not in the mood to walk around you."

Steve Siebold, former professional tennis player and mental toughness coach: World-class athletes operate with extraordinary intensity. This may have been unintentional.

Sharon Chirban, a sports psychologist and Harvard Medical School instructor: I can't say what the state of the relationship is -- however, it will be challenged by public denigration of the coach.

2. What does the bump portend for the future of the James-Spoelstra relationship?

Saunders: It's going to get rockier than it already is, and there will be less-public conflicts that we will only hear of via the rumor mill -- unless either James or Spoelstra has other public run-ins. No pun intended. This type of behavior usually leads to workplace conflict -- causing communication and cooperation shutdowns. If not checked, managers and supporting group members eventually allow or even help the superstar to fail.

3. How does the Spoelstra bump compare to James bumping into Brown? Are we watching the same dynamic, or is something else going on?

Chirban: The two bumps are clear acts of hostility. It seems to me that LeBron has a short anger fuse. He acts out. When he shoulder-bumps the coaches it is contemptuous. He may, in fact, be angry with a call or choice the coach made -- rendering the bump interpersonal conflict. It may also be an act of hostility when he is angry with himself. Some people are in fact hostile and aggressive toward others -- sometimes even authority figures -- when they are managing some feeling of failure, embarrassment or humiliation.

Saunders: Prior to the Spoelstra bump, the Brown bump was probably perceived by onlookers as accidental. But the look on Brown's face is one of "I'll let it slide because my star player is irritated and I'm not going to make a mountain out of this molehill."

Siebold: Athletes like James are under enormous pressure to perform. As a result, etiquette is not always their first consideration.

4. What can be gleaned about James from his interaction with this ball boy -- specifically, when he seems to intentionally toss his warm-ups on the ground instead of handing them over?

Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist and advice columnist who analyzes body language and speech patterns: LeBron has a blatant disregard for his surroundings. His behavior suggests a grand sense of entitlement in true King James fashion and reeks of disrespect toward the ball boy. Almost as though he's trying to make a statement, separating himself from the little guy … forgetting where he came from, even.

Chirban: His disregard for the ball boy is purely arrogant and dismissive. He seems to need to show people around him that he is more important. They need him; he doesn't need them.

Siebold: Basketball is this man's job. Worrying about the ball boy or anyone else is not on his mind. James is living his life and playing basketball in a pressure cooker.

5. What are we witnessing when we see James toss a water bottle into the stands?

Alpert: Throwing the bottles shows anger, impulsiveness and a low frustration tolerance. He has a blatant disregard for others, including their safety, and lacks foresight into the consequences of his actions. In some respects it looks as though he is seeking a reaction from people -- almost as though he might thrive on such drama. Dare I say he's a "drama king?"

Saunders: Frustration that things were definitely not going his way combined with petulance displayed by an immature individual unable to handle something he probably heard a fan say in response to his less than wonderful performance at the time.

Siebold: You're seeing the emotional intensity of a world-class athlete go out of control -- if only for a second.

6. Is there a common thread to the coach run-ins, the ball boy clothes tossing, the water bottle chucking? Taken together, do they tell us something about James' personality, psychological makeup or emotional state?

Siebold: World-class performers are laser-focused on one thing and one thing only: winning. They're like machines, and when they're switched on, they are completely oblivious to anything or anyone else. It may not be polite or politically correct, but it's what makes them champions.

Chirban: A sense of entitlement. I am not going to diagnose him as narcissistic, but clearly he acts like he is better than other people.

Saunders: I think we're seeing a pattern of entitlement and immaturity from someone who is incredibly talented but lacking in professionalism and emotional intelligence, someone not used to handling defeat and criticism. Great basketball skills, poor judgment and interpersonal skills. In the business world, he's the type of individual who'd be provided a behavioral coach or at least a stint in charm school.

7. Why do we, as spectators, obsess over footage like this?

Saunders: We want folks who earn star paychecks to act like shining stars not ill-tempered superstars. But we also get a thrill when we discover they are not infallible role models or paragons of virtue.

Chirban: There is pleasure in knowing that superstars are human. In LeBron's case, I think it's also noteworthy that he seems to be able to get away with crap that many other people in everyday life would be reprimanded or fired for. He breaks the rules of good social conduct and people are willing to look the other way.

Siebold: Because it's entertaining -- and easier to gossip and criticize a great performer than it is to become one. Most people couldn't handle one-tenth of the pressure athletes like James deal with on-court. What we should be talking about is the beauty of watching an athlete so gifted and graceful. He won't be around forever.

8. Are we -- gasp -- overanalyzing? Does that say something about us and our culture?

Chirban: Sports is a massive part of our culture's identity. Besides being an idealized pastime, it is a huge financial investment and fans expect the conduct of their heroes to be stellar and above-average -- much like their athletic abilities.

Saunders: We are -- by nature -- continuous observers of other people's behavior, especially when it warrants criticism. I think it makes us feel as though they really aren't so special after all. And it provides us with numerous opportunities to say, "Hey, nobody's paying me megabucks and even I know better or can handle myself better than that."

Siebold: Of course we're overanalyzing! And yes, it says a lot about our culture. We've become a nation obsessed with sports heroes, movie stars and other people making things happen. Americans need to stop obsessing about James and start going after their own dreams. Then they'll see what it's like to be in the spotlight, under pressure, doing the best they can and sometimes falling short.

Patrick Hruby is a freelance writer and ESPN.com contributor. Contact him at PatrickHruby.net.

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