I was feeling impressed with LeBron and the Cavs after they beat the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They had just swept back-to-back series and set records for three-point shooting in the process. The team looked great, the best they’ve looked since LeBron had returned to Cleveland. The Cavs were playing hard, unselfishly and with joy. And it all seemed to be thanks to LeBron and his leadership. Then I saw LeBron’s hair in the post-game interview and I got really sad.
LeBron was clearly trying to cover up an irrefutable truth: he’s going bald.
And that’s okay. I mention his baldness without malice. I am a bald man who first noticed I was losing my hair when I was 17. And as a senior high school basketball star, I heard chants of “receding hairline” whenever I touched the ball in our rival’s gym (shout out to Cardinal Stritch — I scored 20 and we won by double digits).
But I was also the sort of guy who started buzzing my hair the moment I noticed it was thinning. There is no such thing as a good attempt to cover up baldness, so I didn’t try to hide it. I embraced it. Michael Jordan did the exact same thing on a much, much, much higher level.
Why should LeBron James of all people care that he’s going bald? He’s one of the five best ever at his chosen profession. He’s a champion. He’s married to a beautiful woman. He’s rich. He’s a handsome dude with the body of a Greek god. He’s The King. And on the few occasions in the past when he shaved his head, he looked great.
I’m not saying LeBron would be better solely by virtue of having less hair on his head. I’m saying that LeBron would be a better leader if he embraced who he is. In his Sports Illustrated essay announcing his Cleveland homecoming, LeBron very pointedly described his role on the team as a “mentor” to a group of younger guys and that he had “a responsibility to lead.” More than the points, assists or rebounds he can pile up, LeBron sees his leadership as the most important thing he can offer the Cavs. And while clearly LeBron is dealing with some deep-seated insecurity, that personal weakness actually gives him the opportunity to do something profound. Through accepting his physical appearance, LeBron could give the Cavs a culture of accountability, acceptance and authenticity.
Remember, this is a team that arbitrarily fired their head coach in the middle of the season. It’s a team made up of players who have continuously taken passive-aggressive shots at each other on social media. It is an organization with a wealth of talent that has underachieved without a single member owning up to his responsibility in its failures.
If LeBron were bald, he would effectively be saying to his teammates, “I’m not perfect, but I’m okay with who I am. I’m real and I’m making the most of what God has given me. Superficial things can’t affect me. Fuck egos, get rings.” Everyone else would fall in line. The Cavs would be a better team. They might even be good enough to finally bring Cleveland a championship.
I’m rooting for LeBron. And I’m rooting for him to accept himself as he is. Until then the Cavs’ title hopes are as real as his hairline.