Tom Brady and LeBron James’ Insatiable Hunger Laid Bare

·8 min read
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” is so elegant. The more we resolve, the more we can resolve, and the more self-actualized we will be. Solve the problem of need, and people will move up to the problems of want, then to the problems of why.

But Maslow’s approach misses something very critical about the hunt for self-actualization: It’s never over. For the ultimate proof, we turn, as we often do, to our nation’s biggest pile of pathologies made flesh: former New England Patriots and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.

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For those who don’t know, Brady, a 44-year-old walking medicine show and seven-time Super Bowl winner, finally retired from football last month, apparently. Sports networks aired their tribute packages, people on Twitter begrudgingly recognized his greatness, I wrote about his enigmatic persona. We all dusted our hands, looked into the middle distance, and said, Thank God that’s over.

But our imaginations were weak. We couldn’t put ourselves in Brady’s shoes. We couldn’t understand what it would be like to be so successful that finding your supermodel wife and smiling children and being insanely rich for the rest of your life could be unacceptable. And thus, he announced that he would be unretiring and returning to the Buccaneers for the ‘22-23 season. I don’t think anyone was all that surprised.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady during Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7, 2021, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty</div>

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady during Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7, 2021, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty

But as it turns out, this return wasn’t the product of a fit of madness—a consequence of staring down the barrel of a lifetime of wealth and respect. Actually, Brady was trying to execute a wild scheme to get out of Tampa Bay and set himself in the driver’s seat of the Miami Dolphins’ front office. You see, when he said he was “not going to make that competitive commitment anymore,” he didn’t mean the competitive commitment of playing football, like a normal person would have meant. He meant that he had some other crap he wanted to do that would still involve him throwing footballs for money.

OK, here’s what happened during Brady’s 40 days in the desert, according to an eye-opening report from Boston Globe writer Ben Volin: Brady parlayed with fellow Michigan Man Stephen Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins—as well as a mondo Trump donor and vicious NYC real estate developer who funded a super PAC specifically designed to target progressive NYC council members who deigned to interfere in his molding of the city in his vision—and the two of them concocted a plan: Ross would hire Brady to be the team’s president of football operations and minority owner of the franchise. Then, Brady would announce that he would be returning to the gridiron, the Dolphins would arrange draft pick compensation with Tampa Bay, and Brady would serve as a quarterback/de facto offensive coordinator/team overlord, one man controlling as much of the football product as possible with his moderate charisma and aging arm.

Just imagine: everyone on the team forced to submit to Alex Guerrero’s gospel of pliability, forced to donate their spare blood to keep Brady chugging week after week, kissing the mouth of a granite statue of Brady set up in the locker room so that they can all play the Great Game of Football in his honor. Brady basically faked retirement so that he could amass more power and receive more credit than he does in Tampa Bay, where he is presently getting a shit-ton of credit as is. He would have gotten away with it too, if not for a completely unrelated lawsuit that is poised to show the NFL’s entire ass. Brian Flores, a former coach for the Dolphins who is Black, claims that NFL teams regard interviews with Black candidates as a mere formality conducted to clear the Rooney Rule, and that while he worked for the Dolphins, Ross tried to pay him $100K a game to tank and improve the team’s draft standing.

Brady’s plan would have also involved hiring “a coach he trusted,” former Saints head coach Sean Payton, to fill the head coaching role as his partner. But with the Dolphins’ hiring practices under civil scrutiny, Ross decided that it might be a bad look to hire a white president of football operations with no experience and a white coach who he personally requested in one fell swoop, and ditched the plan. Brady, left to either retire from football and subject himself to the hell of spending time with his beautiful wife and young children, reneged and returned to the Bucs, after arranging for the team to hire a new coach because Bruce Arians spent too much time messing with his precious offensive plans.

Tom Brady, again, is a 44-year-old man playing a sport that demolishes most guys before they’re out of their twenties. His seven Super Bowl wins are more than any single franchise in NFL history. He has hundreds of millions of dollars to his name, MVP awards, Super Bowl MVPs, a lovely family. He had a falling-out with the Patriots, where he won six titles with coach Bill Belichick, left that team in the dust because he felt like he didn’t have enough say about what went on with the squad, and then won another Super Bowl with a different franchise where he had more leverage to call the shots, seemingly out of spite. Even his most ardent haters (me) have been forced to admit that he is the greatest NFL quarterback who ever lived.

This man’s only failures in his whole life were getting drafted lower than he’d hoped, never beating Eli Manning in a Super Bowl, getting lit up by Big Dick Nick that one time, and… that’s it. The man has lived a life full of victories and yet, here we are, reading about him trying to arrange a messed-up monosquad so he can manage to get even more emotional validation than he would have gotten merely by returning to Tampa Bay and succeeding like a normal-ass person. Tom Brady’s thirst for validation is so unquenchable that he is trying to arrange several multidisciplinary jobs for himself so that he can, I guess, win an eighth Super Bowl.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Russell Westbrook #0 celebrates with LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 21, 2022, in Cleveland, Ohio. </p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Jason Miller/Getty</div>

Russell Westbrook #0 celebrates with LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 21, 2022, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Jason Miller/Getty

Brady is a uniquely sick man in this regard, of course. A freak among freaks. The weirdest dude in professional sports—weirder than Michael Jordan, which is honestly saying some shit. At least Tiger Woods plays a sport that is the province of older men, and is exorcising the demons of a childhood whose terrors are well known by this point. Brady was a normal middle-class kid who was invaded by brain spiders that have driven him to a madness for credit that reaches into space. But he’s not the only great player out there seeking control and prestige even after they’ve gotten too much already. LeBron James, of the Los Angeles Lakers, is widely recognized as the greatest NBA player since Jordan, is rich as hell, has won four titles for three different franchises, and four MVPs.

And it’s still not enough. It’s never enough. Since he left Miami, James has been imposing his will on every squad he’s played on, arranging the roster to his whims and those of his agent and business partner, Rich Paul. Most years it’s been… fine, I guess. But this year his pursuit of the-title-he-made-with-his-bare-hands has thrown LeBron down the stairs and shoved him in a basement of his own building handcuffed to Russell Westbrook, the NBA’s premier producer of shanked mid-range jumpers, a player he insisted the Lakers acquire despite their games not having any natural synchronicity even in Russell’s good times, which have been over for a few years now.

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Look, man: I dig player power. I really do. I think stars should have some say in roster construction. They’re valuable? But at a certain point, you can’t do two jobs at once, and scouting and talent acquisition is a whole-ass job aside from playing. Brady can harbor his takes on who should play left guard for the Dolphins, but, really, he isn’t equipped to have a good answer to that question that works within the NFL’s arcane salary cap. LeBron can know Westbrook is good at basketball in an abstract sense, but the knowledge of fit and salary-matching and all that? He’s not living in the correct context to see the bigger picture.

But LeBron and Brady are just dudes on the eternal karmic wheel. Having gotten anything they could ever possibly want, they crave more, like everyone, and they inevitably overstep trying to make it happen. It is the eternal condition of man. Heck, look at Stephen Ross. Why should a person who is worth $8 billion spend out the ass to snipe lefty city councilmen? Because they threaten his craving for more. Not even just money—more power, more credit, more buildings at the University of Michigan with his name plastered on the front of them. In LeBron and Brady, the impulse is farcical; in Ross and the other billionaires who dominate the planet, it’s tragic.

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