LeBron James and the creative class
Does the LeBron-Cleveland saga reflect the anxieties of modern American life?*
Bear with me for a moment: A monumentally talented product from the old industrial heartland flees his hometown and a band of hardworking** but less gifted teammates for a coastal metropolis, intent on mastering his profession by joining up with other monumentally-talented guys. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the perfect sports allegory for the flight of the creative class from flyover country to the coasts. LeBron James wants to live and play with other talented basketball players, much like young creative types want to live and work with other young creative types. The gulf between LeBron and everyone who isn’t an international superstar is undoubtedly more imposing than the social distance between a member of the “creative class” and a working stiff back home, but the larger parallels are irresistible.***
Other than being a totally off-putting spectacle, “The Decision” shifted our national conversation from the rightness or wrongness or somewhere in between-ness of LeBron leaving Cleveland to how much blame he deserved for agreeing to broadcast a gut-wrenching move on national television.
Let’s stipulate that “The Decision” was tasteless. Even if LeBron sent out a press release announcing his choice in the dead of night, we’d still be left with a vague sense of unease. Is it unambiguously right for someone that talented to leave the community who embraced him high-and-dry?
To be clear, I’m not in favor of limiting LeBron’s (or anyone else’s) freedom of movement or choice of employers. But I’d be lying if the culture and class-based sorting “The Decision” mirrored leaves me totally at ease. Plenty of sports leagues seek parity and a broader, less top-heavy talent base for the sake of competition. Wouldn’t a less uniform, more geographically diffuse creative class be desirable for many of the same reasons?
*I’m hoping the sports-heavy content will deter Jason from commenting.
**Not you, Antawn.
***Sure enough, Richard Florida has already analyzed the geographic distribution of NBA championships.