LeBron James has been bigger than the game, a cultural artifact for discussion, dissection and discernment for six years through triumph, misery, and wait, did he have a cartoon show? In advance of LeBron’s second big decision, we wanted to weigh in with our writers’ thoughts on the different worlds this moment in time touches and how honestly weird this entire process is — because the four most powerful words in the NBA are “LeBron James free agency.” Enjoy. – Ed.
We, as fans, obsess over legacies, and it has been widely regarded that staying in one spot, with the same team, is what keeps them in tact. Kobe Bryant has been a Laker for life, compiling five championships and 16 All-Star appearances since joining the franchise as a fresh faced teenager. Tim Duncan has spent all 17 years of his career in San Antonio, recently taking a pay-cut to give the team another chance of bringing home a title. Michael Jordan only became a Wizard when he decided he left the game too soon, and it was more of a pissing contest rather than a legitimate shot to add another ring to his trophy case. Legends like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Bill Russell all stayed with the same franchise for the entirety of their respective careers, winning over the hearts of the locals and etching their names in the record books along the way.
LeBron James was supposed to be one of them. Few players get the luxury of getting drafted into their home state, let alone turn that team into an Eastern Conference juggernaut, like he did for six years. It would’ve made the perfect story: a kid who grew up in the projects of Akron taking one of the lowliest sports franchises on his back and making them relevant yet again, breaking records and solidifying himself as an all-time great along the way.
But, as you know, it wasn’t meant to be.
Seven words changed all of that — “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” It closed the door on one opportunity and opened it up for another one, but it didn’t come without criticism. LeBron was labelled as a weak link for bailing out on the Cavaliers. Michael Jordan even weighed on the decision, tainting his words with disappointment and judgement that he, nor Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, would do what they — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — did. That’s not how the game used to be played, and the consensus at the time, in 2010, was that it still wasn’t.
Things change and people change, though. Four years later, here we are again, at the same crossroads. After four successful years in Miami, which came with two more shiny MVP trophies and two highly coveted championship rings, LeBron holds the future of the league — and his own legacy — in his hands. By becoming a free agent (a decision he made on Tuesday morning) he’ll have every team knocking down his door, foaming at the mouth for an opportunity to coax him away from South Beach. He could join any team he wants, whether that means forming a Big Three in Houston, going back to Cleveland to take care of some unfinished business, playing in basketball’s biggest market in New York, or joining forces with an old friend in Los Angeles. He wants to win championships, and the sell will be that he can win more while doing less elsewhere. After all, LeBron didn’t join the Heat for it to be difficult to win titles, and it became clear against the San Antonio Spurs that the days of Dwyane Wade being the Robin to his Batman are long over.
Unlike the last time we were in this situation, whatever LeBron decides seems to be the right move. The days of him being “weak” for pairing up with other perennial All-Stars and future Hall of Famers are over. Leaving Cleveland was always going to pin him as a villain, even if he never had the right supporting cast to deliver him the goods. It was a fairy tale that turned nasty, quickly. But even after four years in Miami and four straight trips to the Finals, so much is up in the air. The concerns about Dwyane Wade’s health following a dismal showing in the Finals are legitimate, even after a season in which he shot a career-high 54.5 percent from the field, and with only two players on a guaranteed contract next season — Norris Cole and Shabazz Napier — the Heat’s management has a tall task ahead of themselves to reconstruct a broken roster with little cap room to spare.
LeBron has shown his cards, and it’s up to the rest of the league to show theirs. Pat Riley has challenged the Big Three to stay in Miami and win more championships (whether or not that was the right move remains to be seen). LeBron is apparently interested in what the Cavaliers, Rockets, Knicks, Nets and Clippers have to offer, and the addition of his truly would immediately propel one of those said teams into championship contention.
LeBron has finally alleviated all of the pressure, winning a championship that he had fought tooth and nail for in his first eight seasons for. He’s done enough to shed the labels of him buying championships instead of winning them, and now it’s time to add to continue adding to his legacy. He’s not Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant — an asshole of a competitor that will break down walls to prove everyone wrong. LeBron is the ultimate teammate, and his ability to seamlessly go from team-to-team — Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Team USA — and impose his will is a testament to that. We’ve never seen anyone like him before, and jumping to another ship won’t change his legacy anymore. He’s LeBron James, the best basketball player in the NBA, and if he swaps in his Heat jersey for something new, he’ll just prove to us all yet again why he is a once in a lifetime talent capable of turning any team into the deadliest in the NBA.