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BuddhaBall: The Dharma of LeBron James

There was a big story in the sports world this week. In the NBA finals, the Miami Heat, a vaunted team of All Stars and outsized personalities was to lay waste to a rag-tag Dallas Mavericks squad simply by showing up. But instead, the flashy superheroes from South Beach crumbled into a heap of self-doubt, bitterness and frustration, succumbing to the poise and grace of the Texan (and German) no-names.

As a fan, the series was one of the all time best. The games were close and the drama was fevered. As a student and practitioner, it was even better. Buddhist lessons abounded. When the final buzzer sounded, LeBron James, the center of attention throughout the series for both his talents and his shortcomings, delivered a stinging and stung assessment of the “haters” who wanted to see him fail.

“They have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they have to get back to the real world at some point.”

For those not familiar with the larger narrative, James is the unofficial villain of the NBA. He made an arrogant display of his move from Cleveland to Miami, complete with televised announcements, strobe-filled rallies and pronouncements of troves of championships to come. Prior to all that nonsense, he was universally admired for his skills and humble desire to be the best he could be.

His post-game remarks were heard by many as the petulant whining of a graceless loser putting down his detractors. Bitterness surely plays a part, but that wasn’t the message, and he’s not wrong. The unhappiness of others will never make us happy. Our problems and suffering do not go away because somebody else is also suffering. Quite the contrary.

As Thich Nhat Hahn reminds us in his book on anger, "When you say something unkind, when you do something in retaliation, your anger increases. You make the other person suffer, and he will try hard to say or to do something back to get relief from his suffering. That is how conflict escalates."

Next year, when the basketball season starts anew, James and the Heat will surely be heckled and mocked in every opposing arena. That’s too bad. It won’t do anybody any good.

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