LeBron James, Donald Trump and What to do After Screwing Up

By Eric Segall

From time to time, Mike allows me the privilege of  using this space to rant about non-constitutional and non-legal matters. This is one of those times, except for a sentence or two at the end.

With four seconds to go in game one of the NBA Championship, George Hill went to the foul line with the Cleveland Cavaliers down by one point. He made the first foul shot. Had he made the second, Golden State would have been down by one with one last-second chance to win the game. Entering the series, Golden State, the defending NBA Champion, was a heavy favorite to repeat. Hill missed the second foul shot, but Cavalier player J.R. Smith grabbed the rebound. He should either have tried to shoot the ball or call time out so the Cavs would have had one last shot to win the game. Instead, thinking his team was ahead, he ran out the clock, and the Cavs got trounced in overtime. The best or maybe second best player in NBA history, LeBron James, had scored 49 points in regulation in a sensational effort that ended up being all for nought. Smith's mistake is one of the biggest in sports history.

You might suspect this post is about Smith, but it is not. After Smith ran out the clock and the teams prepared for overtime, James sulked and sulked and didn't say a word to anyone, much less Smith. Here is the video. This was a huge mistake. Instead of patting Smith on the butt and saying done is done, James gave Smith the silent treatment. Instead of rallying the troops, the team's unmistakable leader did just the opposite. Not surprisingly, they got blown out in overtime.

James is human, even if he is either the best or second-best player to ever play the game of basketball.  His disappointment and anger over Smith's mistake was totally understandable. Of course, anyone would need a minute to regroup. But, in game 1 of the NBA finals, only a minute. James made a huge mistake by essentially giving up after regulation and before overtime, but that too is not the point of this piece. The point is what he should have done after game one and before game two, which the Cavs lost by almost 20 points.

James made a mistake by not getting his team together and giving them a major pep talk after Smith's mistake. He then made an even bigger mistake by not owning that failure and saying he should have done better. He should have told his team that he let them down and that won't happen again. Fresh start. There is no evidence he did any of that, and Cleveland looked just a tad less energized in game two even if the players did gamely hang in the game until the second half.

Donald Trump never apologizes. Ever. He even seems to be proud of that fact. This moral failure is pernicious and hopefully not contagious. The best way to move past a mistake is to own it. The best way to diffuse a bad situation caused by your own mistake is to admit it, cure it if you can, and then move past it. But the moving past it part is extremely difficult without the admitting it part. LeBron should have publicly admitted his mistaken hissy fit. Imagine, as unrealistic as this sounds, if Trump tomorrow admitted publicly that some of his statements about Muslims have been inappropriate and that he won't repeat them. I may be wrong and hopelessly naive, but I think even his base might admire such a rare act of humanity. In any event, as Mike pointed out here, such an apology might appease the Supreme Court.

For years at my school I ran our Inn of Court program where leading lawyers and judges in Atlanta meet regularly with students and younger lawyers to discuss ethical issues. A few years ago, I made a terrible scheduling mistake, and a senior lawyer in the Inn was hot. He accosted me and demanded I explain why I did what I did. I responded that I made a mistake and had no good reason for doing what I did. I said it wouldn't happen again. He looked at me, gave me the full once over, and said, "Ok, well we all make mistakes, let's move on."

So, if any young lawyers are out there reading this: you will make mistakes in practice, you just will. First try to fix the mistake as quickly as possible, then apologize for it to the relevant constituency, and then move on. This is not terrible advice for people in marriages either. Do not do what the leader of the free world does on a regular basis or what the best or second-best basketball player in  history just did. That is no way to move forward.