LeBron is called “narcissistic,” a word tied to a deadly Greek myth


LeBron James has inspired the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team he left for the Miami Heat, to write an open letter to the basketball MVP that uses some very juicy words. Thank you, Dan Gilbert, for giving us a reason to gaze into the freakish history of narcissistic. The story starts with anger, but ends with a flower.

For the record, here is what Dan Gilbert wrote:

“This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his ‘decision’ unlike anything ever ‘witnessed’ in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.”

That’s but a morsel of the snarky melodrama. But Gilbert may have bit off more melodrama than he realizes by invoking narcissism.¬†Starting with the common, modern definition, narcissism is “excessive love or admiration of oneself.”¬†Psychoanalysis makes things more, well, psycho: “Erotic pleasure derived from contemplation or admiration of one’s own body or self, especially as a fixation on or a regression to an infantile stage of development.”

There isn’t room to elaborate on the many psychological nuances of narcissism, though we will mention two concepts. The official psychological diagnosis is called narcissistic personality disorder, and one of the components of the disorder has a wonderful name: magical thinking, “a conviction that thinking is equivalent to doing, occurring in dreams, the thought patterns of children, and some types of mental disorders, esp. obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

From magic to myth, here is Mr. Narcissus himself. In Greek mythology, he was a young man who was unbearably handsome. He was oblivious to the amorous attention of mortals and nymphs alike. When he saw his own reflection for the first time in a stream, he was so transfixed that he couldn’t stop staring at himself, to the point that he slowly wasted away and died. Depending on the version of the story, his inability to move was either his own self-love or a divine punishment. According to Ovid, a nymph who loved him named Echo finally took pity on him and turned his body into the flower named for him, the Narcissus.

If the word makes you think of narcotic, then your brain is in fine form. Both Narcissus and narcotic contain the Greek root narke, “numbness,” which can also imply seduction.

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