“We have only thirty-five chambers, there is no thirty-six.”
“I know that, but I want to create a new chamber.”
“Oh? And what would that be?”
In the classic film “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”, San Te was a student who sought to learn Shaolin Kung Fu so he could seek revenge against his village’s oppressors.
San Te saw the crushing losses of his hometown and was on the losing end of an early scheme of rebellion. When the plot was foiled and San Te’s own family was punished, he fled, knowing he would never see victory in the current state. He needed help.
Seeking guidance, San Te joined the Shaolin temple. Although his immaturity and impatience was initially a problem, after a few years of training by the abbots, San Te became a master.
He left the Shaolin Temple and returned home, where he found a team of willing partners. With his newfound knowledge in leadership, combined with his Kung Fu skills, his new team was able to defeat their oppressors.
By the end of the film, San Te was not only the best fighter, he was a leader who created his own chamber in the Shaolin Temple. Oppression and loss were a thing of the past.
In the final seconds of Game 1 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James drove to the basket for what would have been a game tying shot. But instead of forcing the ball to the hoop, he passed to Donyell Marshall, who was open and stationed on the far right perimeter. The shot would have won the game for the Cavaliers. Unfortunately, Marshall missed the three and Cleveland lost.
For the rest of the series, LeBron was chastised for his decision. Sports media pundits said he didn’t know how to win – that he lacked the killer instinct of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. Although the Cavaliers eventually won the series, they were swept in the NBA Finals by the San Antonio Spurs.
At the time of his first championship loss, LeBron James was 22 years old and in his fourth season in the NBA.
In the years to come, he would learn leadership and teamwork from two of the best masters in the history of basketball. He would win under these masters and discover the art of using his skills to make others better. He would learn to rely on his teammates for their talents while understanding when to use his own to get the job done.
LeBron followed in the footsteps of San Te in his efforts to rid Cleveland of the crushing weight of a 50-year championship drought.
Three years after losing to San Antonio in the NBA Finals, he left the Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat. He knew he had the skills, but he also knew he could not do it alone. He needed teammates to lift him to the next level.
Coincidentally, the origin of LeBron’s decision to join Miami did not begin in Cleveland, but rather in San Te’s homeland of China during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing while playing for the US Olympic team and under the guidance of legendary Hall of Fame Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
While at Duke University for over 30 years, Coach K has written five books on leadership and instilled a high level of discipline on his teams.
How much LeBron grew in Beijing in 2008 cannot be overstated.
According to Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, “Ultimately, James heeded the warnings, became a better teammate, blossomed into a fully dominant force and played marvelously in the 2008 Olympics. When the gold-medal game grew tightest in Beijing, James still showed a measure of reluctance, leaving Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade to deliver the biggest plays in the final minutes.”
Beijing in 2008 was LeBron’s first Shaolin Temple. Coach K was his first abbot.
In Miami, there were high caliber teammates in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and there was another tutor in Hall of Fame coach and Miami Head executive Pat Riley.
Although he was no longer a head coach, the Heat organization was built to follow Riley’s lead. His teams won in Los Angeles, in New York, and in Miami. Miami was Pat Riley’s temple, LeBron his most talented student.
Two years ago, LeBron returned to his home city of Cleveland.
In his new Cleveland Temple, he would not just lead, he would also instill in others the leadership lessons he absorbed on his journey. He would often speak of the leadership of young star Kyrie Irving. Not coincidentally, Irving played college basketball for Duke under Coach Krzyzewski.
This summer, LeBron and Kyrie led the Cavaliers to their first NBA Championship.
Like San Te, James had left home, journeyed far to learn from the masters, and returned, using his new knowledge for the betterment of his people. With his own temple crowned the best in the land, his journey has come full circle.