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Joel Blank: It's time to appreciate LeBron for all he does off the court, too

Lebron James is making a difference. Getty Images

 

All the talk this week about the Astro's acquiring reliever Roberto Osuna got me thinking—why do we constantly focus on determining who the greatest of all time is in each sport? Debates rage on as experts and armchair quarterbacks believe only they can be right. Instead of worrying about who the greatest is or was on the playing field or court, why don't we focus more on who made the biggest difference and had the greatest impact off the playing surface?

When you think about all the great athletes of our generation and all the candidates for "goat" in a given sport, the majority of the elite have list of shortcomings. From the steroid era of baseball that has tarnished names like Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and Sosa—to the well documented missteps of Randy Moss and Ray Lewis well before they put they were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

What about Tom Brady and the cheating allegations he will be linked to his career forever?  Regardless of if any of it was actually true or not, he has a label of "cheater" that will follow him almost as closely as his title of GOAT. Then there is Tiger Woods and the indiscretions that set his career on a downward spiral he has never recovered from. He went from a collision course with legendary greatness to a fender bender with a fire hydrant that ended up exposing his many off the course shortcomings. It seems like every sports hero nowadays has an evil, dark side that tarnishes even the most successful of careers over the years. Just when you thought all hope was lost, along came Lebron James.

Let the record show that I was a huge Michael Jordan fan back in the day, and I still think he’s the greatest basketball player I have ever seen. For as good as I thought MJ was, off the court there was always that black cloud that hovered over him in the circumstances that led to his father's murder and the gambling debt rumors with his dad's death.

On top of that, he was always afraid to take a side or stand up for social issues or causes because of his perceived fear from a marketing perspecitve. It’s in this instance that Lebron James is everything that Michael Jordan was not. The argument for GOAT may last a lifetime, but there is no denying how great King James has been when it comes to giving his time and money, as well as taking a stance on issues that need to be addressed from a political and societal perspective.

Lebron has put his money where his mouth is and donated over 50 million dollars to causes he feels passionate about. His latest venture has him opening his own public school for at-risk kids in his home town of Akron, Ohio. He refuses to shut up and dribble, as he stands up for social injustice and voices his opinions while taking a stance on issues like social injustice and police brutality and discrimination.

He is not afraid to speak out against anyone and that includes trading verbal jabs with the President of the United States. He isn't worried about his image or any potential damage to his revenue streams or endorsements that his speaking out could cause, his sole focus is to make a difference, take a stand and be the voice for the millions who fear they will never be heard.

He stands up for citizens for their rights, fights for their equal treatment and provides resources for the underprivledged youth of today, so that they can make a difference in society tomorrow.

Make no mistake, Lebron James is one of the greatest athletes of our generation when it comes to standing up, stepping up and fighting for what's right in the world and the people that need that support the most.

It's also worth noting that he is a family man, excellent husband, father and has never been arrested or in the public eye for negative reasons. So regardless of who you think is the greatest athlete of all time, please take note, acknowledge and appreciate those like the King who are trying to make difference off the court by giving their time, money and voice to numerous worthy causes and carrying themsleves with class worthy of such a dubious distinction as the GREATEST.

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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