Did LeBron James Steal "Take My Talents" from Kobe Bryant?

Lexicon Valley
A Blog About Language
Feb. 5 2014 2:10 PM

Did LeBron James Steal "Take My Talents" from Kobe Bryant?

464688239-lebron-james-of-the-miami-heat-against-the-atlanta
LeBron James took his talents, and his headband, to the Miami Heat in 2010.

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

College football's recruiting rodeo wraps up on Wednesday with National Signing Day, that exalted occasion when the nation's best high school football players declare where they'll be going to college. These announcements are mini-Decisions, televised on ESPNU, laden with props, and often featuring a version of LeBron James' famous declaration from July 2010, "I'm going to take my talents to …" When wide receiver Malachi Dupre told a national TV audience that he was matriculating at LSU, he noted that there were "a lot of places I could have taken my talents." Last month, highly rated defensive tackle Gerald Willis III announced, "I will take my talent to Gainesville, Fla.—Florida Gators," while Devante "Speedy" Noil said, "I will take my talents to [Texas] A&M."

Josh Levin Josh Levin

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

In the days after The Decision, when James was pilloried for abandoning Cleveland, "take my talents" was viewed by many as a telling embarrassment, a sign of an ego run amok.

Advertisement

Now, more than three years later, the phrase has become a versatile part of the American lexicon. It's a popular rap lyric, a synonym for masturbation (according to the wordsmiths at Urban Dictionary), and the go-to joke for job seekers on LinkedIn ("I would thoroughly enjoy taking my talents to an organization with a larger reach").

For high school athletes, "take my talents" is an unironic signifier of athletic accomplishment—a way to align themselves with the greatest basketball player of the 21st century. Though today's talent-takers were clearly inspired by The Decision, LeBron wasn't the first basketball star to say those words. In 2005, high schooler Louis Williams held a press conference to announce, "I've decided to take my talent to the NBA draft this year." And back in 1996, 14 years before LeBron went to South Beach, a nattily attired, teenage Kobe Bryant said, "I have decided to skip college and take my talent to the NBA."

Bryant seems to have been the first to use "take my talent" in the basketball press conference context. The phrase, though, wasn't new to sports. Before Kobe, athletes didn't say it to indicate they were moving on to the next stage of their careers. Rather, it was used as a threat against ungrateful employers. In response to trade rumors in 1988, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jesse Barfield told the Globe and Mail, "If they don't want me I can take my talent elsewhere." Four years later, in the midst of a contract negotiation with the Minnesota Twins, Kirby Puckett said, "If I'm meant to be here, I guess I'll be here. If not, I'll take my talent somewhere else."

Highly placed white-collar types, too, talked about taking their talents to various places as far back as the 1980s. In 1986, the president of Washington D.C.'s Children's Hospital told the Washington Post, "I need to take my talents, which I think people think are substantial, to other places." In 1993, a former editor of the Daily Mirror wrote that his ex-employer was concerned "that I would immediately take my talents to Rupert Murdoch." A year after that, the general secretary of the biggest Quaker community in the United States said upon resigning, "I'm getting on with my life. I'm a capable, talented executive, and I intend to take my talents elsewhere."

And nearly 80 years before LeBron James, famed novelist Agatha Christie wrote the following in 1922's The Secret Adversary: "When I was a boy I heard a famous murder trial. I was deeply impressed by the power and eloquence of the counsel for the defence. For the first time I entertained the idea of taking my talents to that particular market."

So don't blame LeBron James for "take my talents." Like many popular phrases, its origins are hard to pin down, and its meaning evolves as new generations adopt it as their own. Forget South Beach. From Agatha Christie to a Quaker general secretary to Kirby Puckett to a British newsman to Kobe to LeBron to Malachi Dupre, "take my talents" has been around the English-speaking world a couple of times over.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 20 2014 1:50 PM Why We Shouldn’t be Too Sure About the Supposed Deal to Return the Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 2:16 PM Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 2:19 PM A Procedural Rule Could Keep Gay Marriage From Ever Reaching SCOTUS Again
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 2:39 PM Gwen Stefani Does Her Best Rihanna Impression on New Song
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 1:51 PM Will Amazon Lead Us to the Golden Age of Books? A Future Tense Event.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 10:23 AM Where I Was Wrong About the Royals I underestimated the value of building a team that’s just barely better than mediocre.