From high atop NBA’s Mount Olympus, LeBron James watches. With his combination of thunderous dunks, lightning-quick passes and authority over all things basketball, LeBron stands as Zeus among a pantheon of greats. And with his decision to host his teammates for Thanksgiving dinner in Cleveland tomorrow, he’s solidified his mythology.
LeBron James will have his favorite Thanksgiving foods — turkey, yams and macaroni and cheese — on his holiday table Thursday.
More importantly, that table will be surrounded by his favorite people.
If an upside exists to the Miami Heat having to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas on the road, a schedule quirk that the reigning NBA champions are not happy about, it’s that one of those swings is through Cleveland. Miami visits the Cavaliers on Wednesday and altered its postgame travel schedule so James could host Thanksgiving dinner at his northeast Ohio home.
The ancient Greeks had a concept they called xenia, which essentially codified hospitality and the relationship between host and guest. One of Zeus’s many duties as the most powerful of Greek gods was to uphold said relationship; he often went by the epithet “Zeus Xenios,” which signified his close ties to hospitality.
One of my favorite classical myths is found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. To test the people of Tyana, Zeus and Hermes disguised themselves as ordinary peasants, traveling the land and weary from their journey. They asked the many people of the town to provide them shelter and a place to rest their heads - xenia, after all, didn’t just apply to one’s friends and family; according to this philosophy, the Greeks were to open their home to anyone who might so be in need, and the guest in turn would honor the host and do everything possible not to be a burden — but were repeatedly turned away.
Finally, Zeus and Hermes came to the home of Baucis and Philemon, a poor, elderly married couple who lived in a simple hut and had little to spare. Yet despite their limitations, Baucis and Philemon took in these two seemingly derelict travelers, honoring their duty to as hosts. The couple fed their guests and continuously filled their wine glasses. And in short order, Baucis realized that something was amiss. No matter how much wine she offered to Zeus and Hermes, the carafe from which she poured never sank to a level less than full. She and her husband realized that their guests must be gods in disguise (which I’m pretty sure is the basis for Transformers), and they raised their hands in prayer to the deities before them, asking for forgiveness for the meager offerings they had to share. The couple came to the conclusion that they must slay their prized goose in order to prepare a meal befitting their guests, but when they went to catch the bird, it ran and found safety in Zeus’s lap.
Zeus informed his hosts just whom he was and beseeched them to leave their home; given the wicked nature of the townsfolk who had abandoned their responsibilities under xenia, he had decided to destroy the town. But because of their fealty and respect, Baucis and Philemon would be saved. He urged them to climb to the top of a nearby mountain with him and Hermes and not to look back until they’d reached the summit. Upon scaling the mountain, Baucis and Philemon cast their gaze on the town below, which mighty Zeus had swallowed up in a great flood. Only the home of Baucis and Philemon remained; it had been transformed into an ornate temple, of which the elderly couple would be made guardians. With the respect of Zeus won, the two were granted their wish that when one died, the other would as well, so they would never be separated.
“I’m a great host,” James said. “It’s natural for me. I don’t mind giving guys what they want — what they deserve.”
This is LeBron James: great host of the NBA, basketball’s Zeus Xenios. Where the masses urge him to shoot and to take care of his own numbers, he looks to pass. His mentality is one of sharing and kindness to all, both friend and foe alike. It’s a philosophy the ancient Greeks would respect and adore.
All hail LeBron James, scion of the Master of Olympus.