There comes a point in the life of a grown man where it’s no longer really appropriate to care deeply about professional sports. I’ve written about this before. I enjoy watching sports as much as anybody, but I realize that it’s entertainment. That’s it. My own personal self-esteem or self-worth is in no way affected by whether or not somebody puts a ball in a hoop or a goal, no more than it would be by Luke Skywalker disappearing at the end of The Last Jedi (spoiler alert). In both cases, I’m watching professional performers execute their craft.
I completely understand that, for many, the enjoyment of watching sports can be enhanced by rooting for a team or an individual to do well. I like rooting for Manchester City in the English Premier League, mostly because they play a beautiful style of football/soccer that is enjoyable to watch and produces a large amount of goals. If they lose a game (which they rarely do as of late), I simply turn off the television and go on with my day. I don’t give it another thought. Some would say that doesn’t make me a “true fan”—and they’d be right. I’m not. I just enjoy their style of play.
But there are a lot of “true fans” of the NBA today who are upset by the fact that LeBron James decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Los Angeles Lakers for the upcoming season, signing a rather large contract in the process. When James left the Cavaliers the first time, he departed to play in Miami with fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in pursuit of his first championship. After somewhat mixed results in South Florida, including two titles and two runner-up finishes, James returned to Cleveland and brought that city its first professional sports title in over fifty years. All’s well that ends well, right?
Except that the Cavs showed this year that they can’t compete with the best in the Western Conference, getting flat out smoked in the finals for the second consecutive year. So James, perhaps tired of playing in Cleveland, decided to leave yet again. But this time it’s a bit different, and nobody can or should really be all that mad at him. Because James has finally realized that his end game is not to win more basketball championships—it’s to build a lifelong brand.
Lebron James is 33 years old. To put that in perspective, Magic Johnson retired at 32 (with a couple of short comeback attempts afterward). Charlie Parker died at 34. Mozart kicked it at 35. Even Jesus was nailed to a cross around his 33rd birthday. Greatness doesn’t tend to last on this planet. And perhaps none of those greats have had the same amount of wear and tear on their body that James has had (although Bird’s coroner’s report estimated him to be around 60 years old). He’s played in the NBA for 15 seasons. His teams made the playoffs thirteen of those seasons, adding 239 games to his body. He’s also played in the Olympics three times, played in the World Championships, Pan Am Games, etc. He’s played enough basketball to last multiple lifetimes for most pros.
So when he decided to sign with the Lakers over the weekend, I don’t think that it had much to do with basketball. The Lakers were 35-47 last season with a roster of talent that was the sixth youngest in the league and included future stars like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma. Adding James to that mix is compelling, to be certain, and might improve the team by as much as 10 wins for next season. Unfortunately, that doesn’t even make the playoffs in the West. But let’s say he improves the team by 15 wins, which would be extraordinary and nearly unprecedented for one player to make such an impact. Well, they’re still no better than the third best team in the conference, and the new version of the Lake Show would be approximately even with such squads as Portland, Utah, Oklahoma City, and New Orleans. The chances of James winning a championship in LA seem remote, at best.
The Lakers still have a chance at getting some more pieces to the roster, like Kawhi Leonard, But they’d have to give up much of that young talent, not to mention draft picks, to convince the Spurs to part ways with Leonard. but it speaks volumes that Paul George, a Los Angeles native, opted to remain in Oklahoma City (of all places) rather than join James in La-La Land. DeMarcus Cousins could be an option, but does anybody think that James will tolerate Cousins’ act? I doubt it.
James has won three NBA titles, which is impressive, but it’s certainly not comparable with Michael Jordan’s six. It’s not even comparable to Kobe Bryant’s or Magic Johnson’s five. Or Shaquille O’Neal’s four. Let’s not even talk about Bill Russell, ok? Any discussion of LeBron James as the best player of all time went down the toilet when he was swept out of the NBA Finals this year. Maybe he’s Larry Bird (a player with whom he compares almost shockingly well, statistically speaking). That’s saying quite a bit, but greatest ever? Nah. He’s got a 3-6 record in the Finals. (Bird was 3-2, just as an FYI—and he had to play against Magic.)
If he wanted to fix that record, he should have gone to Houston, a team that was moments away from beating Golden State in the conference finals without its MVP-caliber point guard. Putting James on the Rockets makes them a potentially all-time great team. But he didn’t go there. He chose a young team that is a couple of years away from competing, and if these last two years showed us anything, it’s that James can’t win a title by himself—at least not while the Golden State Warriors are constructed as they currently are.
Therefore, it’s fairly obvious that James didn’t go to LA to win championships. He went there for life after basketball, plain and simple. James wants to build a business empire—some combination of entertainment, athletic wear, maybe restaurants. Who knows? You can’t do that in Cleveland—or, at least, not as easily. But by putting yourself on display 41 nights a year at the Staples Center, you bet you can. And when his contract expires, and James is 37 years old, he’ll be ready to enter that next phase of this life. And who better to teach him how to do that than his new boss, Earvin “Magic” Johnson?
In case you didn’t know, Magic is worth at least half a billion dollars, and his company is worth double that. Very little of that wealth has anything to do with basketball—at least not in the sense that he received a great deal of money during his career. Magic has been involved with everything from movie theaters to Starbucks franchises to being a partner in the record $2B purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers. If James is looking for a mentor, he’s clearly got one now.
Of course, if you’re a “true sports fan,” you probably don’t like any of this. You either wanted James to stay in Cleveland and continue to beat his head against a brick wall in his hometown, or go to a team where he can compete for a championship. He did neither, and he probably couldn’t care less that you’re mad about it. His purple and gold jersey is going to set sales records, the Staples Center is going to be the premier place in LA to see and be seen again, and when it’s time, his jersey will hang in the rafters with Chamberlain, West, Baylor, Magic, Shaq, and Kobe.
But more importantly, he’ll spend the next four years in meetings with entertainment and business luminaries, and when it’s all done, he’ll be more prepared for life after basketball than anybody in the history of the game. Championships be damned when there are billions to be made.
Good choice, Bron-Bron.
Reminds me of when Albert Pujoles left STL to go DH for the Angels. Many Cards fans were pissed, some of them mostly because he wouldn’t admit that he left for the money. Hard to blame him for taking 10 years of guaranteed money, though Albert won’t have the post-career that LeBron looks to be setting up.
Once upon a time, I cared a great deal about pro sports. Then MLB went on strike and there was no World Series, the Browns moved to Baltimore, CART and the IRL split, NASCAR became a snooze-fest, and I began to realize how foolish I was to have cared at all. When the Columbus Crew move to Austin, TX at the end of this year, my last shred of caring about pro sports will go with them.
NASCAR started dying out for me BEFORE #3 died. Accelerated because of this death. They chased the dollar and lost. I sometimes turn a race on for a couple of minutes here and there and within a few minutes one of the announcers says “If you don’t like this action then you don’t like racing”. I guess I don’t like racing.
IndyCar is crawling its way back from the ooze. It will never be what it was.
I do watch F1. I find qualifying much more satisfying than the actual race. Which is sad. I used to go to Lime Rock Park on Memorial Day back in the late 70’s and earl 80’s. They’d get 25-30,000 people. Now? It looks like maybe 5,000 if they are lucky.
I will say the the Porsche 919 lap record video at the ‘Ring last week was really, really something. That was one of the most or THE most amazing feat of driving I’ve ever seen.
Not a huge racing fan, but I found Brock Yates’ old ideas to revitalize the ‘race on Sunday, sell on Monday’ relationship interesting. Memory fails, but I believe the gist of it for NASCAR anyway was to run as close to stock as possible and for Indy to be no holds barred.
Personally, the only racing that that has slowed my channel surfing in bygone years was pro-rally and maybe Pike’s Peak.
Can’t fault him for going for the dollars, more power to him. At the same time, I think he is poison to a team. I’m not a Celtics fan but I do pay attention as I live in N.E.. Supposedly Boston was on his short list. Listening to sports talk and from what I read, he would be hated by the fans here with a passion. Can’t say I blame them. The diva act only goes so far. LeBrons walking off the court before the final game finished was real bush league stuff.
All sports are “RollerBall” – the James Cann version. A diversion.
I do prefer likable players and teams. I have no skin in the game. I see no point in rooting for someone that’s a prima-dona that’s a great talent that falls back on excuses. At least lie to me when you are asked questions. After all, it’s only important to people with skin in the game.
I’m also not a fan of petulant goobers like David Price. I’m sure there are a lot of Red Sox fans who cheered that he got shellacked by the Yankees last night. Sad part is, the Red Sox are probably stuck with him until he retires. He could opt out of his contract and go free agent, but the stupid ass contract the Red Sox gave him guarantees he will remain with the team.
Unrelated sports question: after this weekend is Kyle Larson a “classy guy” or is he the field’s bitch?
Neither? He tried his damnedest to take Kyle Busch out. He just came up short.
If that is Lebron’s desires, then he should just hang up his sneakers now and start working full-time on his professional endeavors.
It is hard to claw your way into the social elite in LA when you are still performing in the bread and circuses at the colosseum. No one wants to stay up networking with someone who has to get up early to go to work the next day, even if they do just work 82 days a year.
I would argue that the LeBron brand will only take a hit if his move to LA doesn’t result in a championship. Three or 4 years of 2nd or 4th place finishes and early playoff exits won’t make any famous LA investors and celebrities more anxious to hang out and help out LeBron in the business world than they would be today fresh off the plane from Cleveland. Furthermore, his move to the Lakers reinforces the image that he is a mercenary willing to play for anyone if they bring the big bucks, which will almost certainly reduce his appeal to many fans around the league, particularly if he starts to slip physically as he is almost certain to do with that many miles on his body. Russell, Bird, West, and Magic are special in large part because they were Celtics and Lakers throughout their storied careers, so I don’t see LeBron leaving the game with the same stellar reputation despite being an awesome player for many years.
For truth in advertising he should make a rap video “I’m only in it for the Wilsons” as he fans a handful of 100,000 bills to the camera lens.
You do bring up a good point. This is “Peak” Lebron unless he create a legend in LA.
Lewis Hamilton just re-upped with Mercedes for 2 more years. $52,522,400.00 per year.
“can create” Arg.,
Except that the bucks would have been the same anywhere except for Cleveland, who could have paid him even more. The money is a non-factor.
Oh yay, we get to call some old wash out a mogul not because he builds a great business, but rather that he sells his name. I can just see him romancing bankers for the money men behind Lebron Inc. Might has well deal with Dewey, Cheatam, and Howe directly.
Sounds like the President when you state it like that.
He actually built things,
Do you have a better idea? Do like Jack and go out with a broken back?
Start a steakhouse in Cleveland where you shake hands with your fans and old friends. He has made enough money.
“He has made enough money.”
And that is exactly the point – he’s leaving to chase something that can’t be purchased.
I sincerely wish him luck and good fortune in pursuing whatever it is that he seeks. Hopefully he is more successful in his pursuit than Karl Malone or Gary Payton 😉 (sorry, I’m a Pistons fan – couldn’t resist)
By the way, I just saw a rumor that Boogie Cousins is heading to the Warriors on a one-year contract. That’s a hell of an upgrade over JaVale McGee, and the deal should lead to furious action by rival GMs to improve their teams’ chances at getting steamrolled in the 2019 playoffs.
Since folks seem to be getting worked up about “white privilege” and “male privilege”, are we allowed to discuss the privileges that LeBron James has enjoyed since the first time someone realized he had basketball talent?
While he may have great talent, he’s got very little charisma.
You guys can write about anything and make it interesting, even basketball. Well done. I know very little about the sport, but here in SoCal people are a lot more excited about the Lakers than they have been in a while, so it seems like it was a good business decision.
Great article Bark.
Long life to the king Bron-Bron 🙂
Lebron’s place in basketball history is already safe. Even though he still plays at a high level, his move this time is not controversial. Last time he left Cavs when Great Recession was going on for Miami. It was as though nothing good could happen to Cleveland. He left for riches in basketball creating a super team in Miami where sun always shines.
People in Cleveland were genuinely hurt. That was their son. He turned his back on them. They burned his jerseys.
When in turn he was burned out in Miami, it was a great feel good story to be back in Cleveland. Once he won in Cleveland, he achieved everything a basketball player can. Is he the best? Not sure. But he is certainly a legend and top 10 player ever.
His move to Lakers may be business related. But he will never replace Kobe in LA. Not even close. His best shot at business life after NBA is Michael Jordan. Buy a team. Stay in shadows and mysterious and mystical and mythical. Lebron may like the limelight too much to stay in shadows, but owning the Cavs is his future.
As for you, a man loves sports because it allows us to create connections. You are a family man. But if you happen to go to a bar and can’t connect, you are a lost soul. All it takes is a spark for you to get back to where you were. The fire still burns, even if not always obvious.
The most perplexing thing about all of this is how the Lakers have chosen to fill out the rest of the roster. The likes of Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale, and KCP are all super strong personalities that are, at best, weird on-court fits with James. They were 29th in 3P % last year, and have signed players that are pretty bad at shooting. It’s just bizarre roster building.
Ostensibly they are just waiting for the 2019 free agency class, but still. Punting on this season while James has an entirely unknown amount of good seasons left is odd, to say the least
Larry Bird is dead?! Holy shit…