Playlist control is the ultimate symbol of power in modern society. Whether it’s via an aux cord or a Bluetooth connection, it connotes authority, esteem, and influence, not unlike the all-important conch in Lord of the Flies. To curate music is to hold dominion over those around you.
It should come as no surprise, then, that LeBron James, arguably the most powerful athlete in the world, is the Cavs’ unofficial locker room DJ. And he doesn’t take this role lightly. Rather than lazily playing a compilation of hits from his assorted musician pals, LeBron approaches the aux with studied aplomb, wielding his power like Frank Underwood. And coincidentally or not, his music selection — or lack thereof — has closely mirrored the Cavs’ trajectory this season.
Back in December, journeyman guard Jared Cunningham publicly complained about the lack of West Coast rap and “up-tempo club music” on LeBron’s playlist, which at that point primarily consisted of old standbys like OutKast and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Just over a month after his comments, the Cavs fell into relative disarray, losing twice to the Warriors and firing head coach David Blatt. In February, Cunningham was unceremoniously traded to the Magic, only to be immediately waived. While these events may not be related, Cunningham’s bizarre decision to question LeBron’s handling of the aux couldn’t have helped.
Shortly after Cunningham’s exit, LeBron made headlines for pulling the plug on the aux cord, opting instead to listen to his music with headphones. This may have been his passive-aggressive response to the Cavs’ embarrassing loss to the Heat. Recent addition Channing Frye and D-League call-up Jordan McRae were so flustered by this development that, instead of simply playing their own music, they reportedly asked LeBron if they could hear what he was listening to. LeBron declined.
It may have seemed silly at the time, but LeBron’s decision to go silent had the desired effect: With a renewed focus, the Cavs clinched the top seed in the East and proceeded to steamroll to the Finals. The mood in the Cavs locker room is jubilant, and LeBron has taken to playing music again. To wit: He’s now jamming to The O’Jays (Northeast Ohio’s own!), even going so far as to croon along to their 1972 hit “Back Stabbers.” If this is any indication, the Cavs’ season is destined to end on a happier note than Lord of the Flies.