By now you’ve probably seen the new Nike ad featuring LeBron James, released the evening of his return to the Cleveland basketball court. If you haven’t seen it, go to Youtube and check it out: it’s titled “Together,” and it’s spectacular (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6S1JoCSVNU). It is both beautiful to look at it and emotionally satisfying, and it’s important, I think, to find out why.
The ad begins in a pre-game huddle, just LeBron and his teammates on the court, and LeBron begins a speech about working hard for Cleveland, finishing the job here for the city. One by one, fans in the arena join the huddle on the court. Then we see them gathering outside in the mezzanine, on bridges, in public parks, and in alleys. The speech to the team is about gaining strength from the people of the city, their success on the court will be for them but also by them. When LeBron brings the team together to “break” the huddle, by calling “1,2,3, Hard Work, 4,5,6, Together,” we hear not the team, but a throng of citizens responding to this call, loudly shouting, “Hard Work” and “Together,” while remaining arm-in-arm with their fellow citizens, team members of a city. We see a posture of dependence, and a willingness to endure for the good of others.
The most visually important parts of the ad are the individual faces that are shown as the masses come together. The sense here is that though we are one people coming together for a cause, the individual members are the fuel that makes a big wheel turn. The faces are unique and diverse – young and old, black and white, rich and poor. They are you and me, and the people on your street. The emotional response to the individual faces validates the idea that even in community the individual must be valued greatly. You are always a part of something bigger than yourself, but you yourself are precious. This picture also helps to dispel the notion that self-determination is prized above dependence on others. We are so commonly a nation of “selves” and acknowledge that in our shame we would love to be alone with our missteps as to not be discovered, and rather take successes and losses upon our own shoulders. However, our feelings about community shown in this ad prove that what we long for somewhere in our guts is a need to be knit closely to each other, arms open, exposed, but loved, despite our shortcomings. We are at our most beautiful and most efficient when we lean on one another; this is where the body of Christ can be both a portrait of humans working to their full capacity and the vehicle by which individuals and communities are reconciled back to God. In the church you are part of one body, but valued for your unique gifts and personality, as each member of the body is integral to the whole. You are never to be “lost in the crowd” in a church, but cherished as an individual who has been put to proper use.
In the Quicken Loans arena where LeBron’s Cavs play their basketball, there is a large sign that reads “All for One – One for All” with a little Ohio logo in between. Nike, in its current LeBron campaign, have created a couple of telling tag lines: “We are all witnesses” is one and “this time it’s bigger than basketball.” Both lines point to something strong – a community spirit that needs rekindling. But if it’s bigger than basketball, what exactly is the “it”? The ethos of this team lifting this town, even this state, out of its current funk, is compelling, but it can only go so far. What they propose is really a conditional thing – if we win, it will inspire you, it will excite you, it could even bring a broken community together. Currently upon writing this, the Cavs are 1-3, not exactly hanging banners in rafters yet. I do hope they win, and I do hope their success encourages business growth, community spirit, and enhances the reputation of Cleveland. But I do sincerely hope that we put our community pride in other sources. The power of Christ and his church to change hearts and lives, and revitalize communities is astounding. Those of you who are in Christ know his unconditional love, what he has done, and what he is doing – and to that, we are all witnesses.