On Tuesday, two very different public figures had extraordinary nights. President Joe Biden was masterful in his State of the Union address. I don’t often pay attention to these events; they seem so formulaic: achievement (applause from half the chamber); achievement (applause); vision for the future (applause again). Nothing new; nothing surprising. But the sparring that took place between Biden and the Republicans was entertaining and Biden’s ability to work the crowd was a masterful thing to watch. It may have been his best speech ever—and was definitely one of his best performances. Perhaps even more important, Biden seemed strong and focused. Without ever mentioning it, he disarmed doubts about his age and stamina and—without mentioning the subject—announced his campaign slogan, “finish the job,” for his 2024 presidential campaign.
On the same evening in Los Angeles, iconic basketball player LeBron James, at age 38, passed Karem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s career scoring title.
Both men came to these exalted positions in their respective fields through very different paths. LeBron was a high school phenom. His star power was never in doubt. I was working at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland when LeBron graduated from high school and was drafted by the Cavaliers. I parked my car in the lot adjacent to the Gund Arena where the Cavs play. The very next day they raised the parking fees by 30%! The whole city of Cleveland—long the butt of jokes—seemed to find a new confidence based solely on the anticipated presence of this eighteen-year-old basketball player.
Eventually, a ten-story mural was created and adorned one of the buildings at the city’s edge—We Are All Witnesses—so that newcomers could immediately see they were in Cleveland—LeBron’s town. And LeBron James’ legacy extends far beyond the basketball court to his social justice activism, his generosity for his hometown of Akron, and for providing scholarships and other academic advantages for kids who struggled with traditional schooling. He is the consummate team player who not only holds the NBA scoring title but is also fourth all-time in career assists.
Joe Biden, on the other hand, slogged his way to the top. Though by any measure, his career in government has been beyond successful, pundits (myself included) and political foes continue—even up to this week—to doubt his governing abilities, his political skills, his charismatic appeal to voters.
Yet on Tuesday night, Joe Biden demonstrated his political prowess for all the world to see. He twisted his Republican opponents into knots and got them to give a standing ovation for social security and Medicare funding—which some had threatened to terminate. His rhetorical flourishes either neutralized contrary views or trapped opponents into supporting his agenda. And his presentation was strong and focused, setting aside the critique in some quarters that he was doddering and too old to be effective.
But despite its similarities, basketball is not politics and aging athletes run on a different clock than aging politicians. LeBron is still at the top of his game, one of the league’s leading players even now. But time will catch up eventually and LeBron James will call it quits. Now that he is the scoring champion (and no one playing today is even close) and given the fact that he has won four NBA titles, LeBron James will know when it is time to hang up his shorts.
But the stakes are much higher in government, and despite the euphoria of the moment, Joe Biden should take a hard look at himself and his age and should not run for president in 2024. He would be closer to 90 than to 80 at the end of his second term. Biden seemed fully in control (and even enjoying the rough and tumble of sparring with Republicans) at this week’s State of the Union address. But aging can be a furtive foe.
The vagaries of the current political climate, unexpected challenges—foreign and domestic, the rapid pace of change, the Democrats’ strong bench (Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, Gretchen Whitmer, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsome) are all reasons that Joe Biden should take a victory lap now, finish out his term with dignity and then retire from active involvement in the political tussle. Should he “retire” before the 2024 race, history will remember the act as one of his great sacrifices for his country, another aspect of a truly great legacy. It is time to step aside and let the next generation “finish the job.”
3 thoughts on “Joe and LeBron”
Well, you need an edit here my friend. You didn’t list Michelle Obama as a member of the “strong bench.” She is my favorite, after a State Legislator in Virginia…..
You hit the nail on the head, and you proved that you, Bob, are not yet too old to reflect with amazing insight and wisdom, but then to put those reflections into words of power and truth. I agree with your analysis of Biden’s best future – and it could really be great. Thanks, Bob and blessing. Earl Miller
Agree all around, Bob. In Biden’s interview with Judy Woodruff on Wednesday, he once again looked worn-out and feeble, in contrast to his strong outing on Tuesday.