Amid all the bitterness and hype, there's one thing I found very telling in the LeBron-A-Thon. When the 6-foot-8, 2x NBA MVP known as King James had trouble making up his mind on the morning of "The Decision," he called his mom.
We all know what happened next. LeBron James dumped Cleveland, stood up New York and Chicago, and chose Miami in front of 10 million people on live national television. Cleveland fans burned his jersey. His former team's owner called him a coward. Sportscasters labeled the whole media circus an obnoxious public relations disaster.
Sure they're pissed. With all the speculation, second guessing and secret sourcing, there's one thing the talking heads and sportswriters underestimated: the power of mom.
Gloria James was single and only 16 when she gave birth to LeBron. They seem to share the kind of steely connection that comes from years of me-and-you-against-the-world living. She wears a jersey that says "LeBron's Mom" on the back. He has her name tattooed on his right bicep. She still refers to him as "my baby" and "Bron-Bron."
James said his mother told him that morning that he should do what makes him happy. That's what every mom ultimately wants for her child, but pretty darn unselfish advice coming from someone who has spent almost her entire life in Ohio.
LeBron James wants to win big. He knows his two buddies in Miami, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, can make that happen. His mom approves. So do his childhood friends, who help run his marketing team and will probably follow him to Miami. Cleveland may think it has a right to feel spurned. But, to me, it sounds like this well-spoken 25-year-old is being loyal to all the people who really matter.
Some of my friends find it Norman Bates creepy that a grown man is still seeking advice from – or hiding behind the skirts of – his mom. But as someone married to a mama's boy, I've decided that, even with all the frustrating drama such a relationship brings, men who deeply adore and trust their mothers are ultimately our friends. They've been raised to value and respect women.
"She gets all the credit in the world for helping me become the man who I am today. Yep," LeBron James once told 60 Minutes.
After LeBron's grandmother died when he was an infant, he and his teen mom were on their own. Reports say they lived in a condemned house. Then, between the ages of 5 and 8, LeBron moved more than 12 times. His mom supposedly made some bad choices – had trouble holding down steady work, hooked up with a man convicted of cocaine trafficking … When she realized she couldn't provide the stability he needed, she sent her son to live at times with coaches and friends. But she was, by all accounts, always involved in his life, always in the stands when he went on to play (and earn a 3.5 GPA) at a Catholic high school in his hometown of Akron.
Now a father of two boys with his high school sweetheart, LeBron marvels at his mother's strength. "I may be able to figure out how to make a jumper or dunk a basketball, but I cannot figure out how you raised me by yourself," he told her when accepting one of his MVP awards. "Wow."
That doesn't mean he and his 41-year-old mother always see eye-to-eye. He once yelled at her to "sit her a** down" when she jumped up and tried to attack Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce after Pierce blatantly fouled LeBron in a playoff game. And who knows what words were exchanged between mother and son when Internet rumors claimed this spring she had an affair with one of his teammates.
Their relationship may be complicated. But, at the end of the day, the Most Wanted Man in Basketball knows that the only fan he can truly count on to stick by his side has been there his entire life.