LeBron James isn’t stupid, as much as fans of the 29 NBA franchises that aren’t the Miami Heat would wish it were otherwise. In fact, browsing through GQ’s cover feature on James, he comes across as relatively savvy — or, at least, keenly aware of his place in the universe of professional sports, as well as his relationship with his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Also, he doesn’t drink coffee, he is confident that he could average 35 points a game if he wanted to and, apparently, is prone to burst, mid-sentence, into songs and raps. He also confided to the magazine that thinks that Miley Cyrus “can have some of the shenanigans, but not all of the shenanigans, you know?” (No word on whether he digs Super Troopers.)
Since James doesn’t live in a bubble, and also because he is approaching free agency as soon as July of 2014, he’s done some thinking about life, the universe, and The Decision, the televised foray into his 2010 free agency that raised more than $2 million dollars for Boys & Girls Clubs across the country — per Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie – but left Cleveland Cavaliers management and fans outraged, turning James into the latest national portrait of a tone-deaf jerk. What a difference a couple years makes. After LeBron finally won a title in 2012, the hoops world reached a tacit agreement to collectively forgive him and just enjoy watching the best player on the planet do his thing — and the LBJ of 2014 is far from the perpetually scowling villain of 2011.
Kicking back at an ice cream parlor with his family, who you’ve seen in those eminently likeable Samsung Galaxy commercials, James told GQ that The Decision ”helped me grow as a man. As a professional, as a father. At the time, as a boyfriend. It helped me grow. Being confined, I spent my whole life in Akron, Ohio. For twenty-five years. Even though I played professionally in Cleveland, I still lived in Akron. Everything was comfortable. I knew everything, everybody knew me — everything was comfortable. I needed to become uncomfortable.”
Continuing, James told GQ that witnessing the fallout from The Decision had helped him get some perspective on “everything on and off the floor this league has to offer,” a position of wisdom he has extended both off the court advice to athletes like Johnny Manziel and on-the-court tips to youthful contemporaries like Indiana Pacer Paul George. Another thing about James is that he’s really into the idea of being great. Not only has he publicly divulged his desire to be the greatest basketball player in the game for almost his entire career, but he pays attention to greatness in others like Kyle Korver’s ongoing 3 point streak, now at 122 consecutive games.
Greatness attracts James beyond the basketball court, too. Correctly recognizing himself as the biggest thing to ever come out his home town, James knows that, “The responsibility of being the inspiration and the light for my community — it’s much greater than hitting a jump shot.” So when someone accuses him of being different now, his response is in the affirmative.
“I’m like, ‘Thank you.’” James explained to the magazine, “I’m 29 years old with a family — I’m married with a family. Of course I’ve changed. The problem is, you haven’t changed. As an African-American, we hear it a lot where we grow up. You’ve changed… because you’ve tried to better yourself and because you’ve made it out. ‘You’re not the same person that we used to know.’ Of course I’m not. I’m trying to better myself.” For James, who grew up fatherless and penniless in the projects of Akron to be the the NBA’s biggest star since Michael Jordan, it’s got to feel like he’s getting all the lower-case decisions right.