This time, there was no live television special. There was no closely guarded first-person Sports Illustrated piece. LeBron James’ third foray into free agency ended with a simple tweet from his management company, with no quotes, comments or perspective offered.
“LeBron James, four time NBA MVP, three time NBA finals MVP, fourteen time NBA All Star, and two time Olympic gold medalist has agreed to a four year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers,” the release from Klutch Sports read.
This was less proclamation or celebration as it was resignation. The resignation that LeBron couldn’t remain in Cleveland, where winning a title was increasingly inconceivable and dysfunction was everywhere. He didn’t even bother to say goodbye — although that 2016 NBA championship is really all he ever needs to mention.
Yet it was also the resignation that this wasn’t a jump to South Beach where he’d team up with buddies and assuredly bring not one, not two, not … championships.
This was the resignation from the Cavaliers and the realization that the West Coast grass may not prove all that green either. And that can’t feel all that great, either.
Maybe that’s why the news release didn’t mention LeBron being a three-time NBA champion, better to not focus on the all-or-nothing angle of this move. This felt like it was something he just wanted to do quietly because he had no choice.
It’s LeBron the Laker now, becoming the latest star for a franchise that has almost always had one. There’s a reason it’s L.A.’s team. Yet while trying for a title was enough in Cleveland, and maybe even mostly in disinterested Miami, it won’t be in L.A.
LeBron, at 33, says he isn’t done trying to win it all, trying to best the Golden State Warriors, but Laker fans, as excited as they are (and should be) right now, aren’t in this just to come up short.
There are 16 championship banners inside Staples Center, including 10 representing victories since 1980 alone. The Lakers are unapologetic in their pursuit of everything. It’s why LeBron is there in the first place.
Delivering on that will carry some weight, though. LeBron knows that and presumably embraces that. Staying in Cleveland and losing came with a built-in excuse. Jumping somewhere else may have represented a roll of the dice.
Going to L.A. — going to Wilt’s franchise, Kareem’s franchise, Magic’s franchise, Shaq’s franchise, Kobe’s franchise — is different. This is the purple and gold. They were the Warriors generations before the Warriors were the Warriors.
Can he deliver, though? Is there enough there — both on the roster and in his tank after 15 seasons? Can the Lakers get Kawhi Leonard without giving up too much? Can they fill in around LeBron? Can they find Lonzo Ball a jump shot and LaVar Ball a muzzle?
You don’t go to L.A. to hide. You don’t pick the Lakers to just try.
LeBron James was the best basketball player in the league last year and with that kind of ability comes the desire to win titles. Yet for how long can he deliver at this level? Did he just assure defeat to the Warriors a round or two earlier?
This isn’t Michael Jordan in Washington, a forgettable victory lap. At least, it shouldn’t be. That would require some significant on-court success in Los Angeles, though. Another title would be nice. That’s what the Lakers do, after all, collect stars and win trophies. And when you go there, you embrace that pressure or get crushed by it.
LeBron is the latest.
This isn’t his town and it isn’t his franchise and these aren’t his friends he’s bringing with him. He’s good with that, or he would have stayed in Ohio.
Although he sure wasn’t hyping this decision quite the way he did the last couple.
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