Less than a month after the Spurs lifted the NBA Championship trophy, pulled Tim Duncan within one ring of Michael Jordan, and made a star out of a guy who can’t smile – you don’t care.
That’s what LeBron James means to you. Love him or hate him, you care enough to – without warrant — let everyone around you know which side you’ve chosen. And, yes, it is a choice. The man himself has done nothing widely accepted as legally, nor ethically, wrong. Yet his every move is measured by what you choose to believe, who you think you’d be if you were him, and the ghosts of basketball’s past.
LeBron James can, has, and just might again change the terrain of the entire NBA. I love this. NBA Owners and GMs huff and puff leading up to the trade deadline then plug their ears, toss their phones in the nearest woodchipper, and hold each other in a storage closet until it’s all over.
LeBron’s not waiting. Nor should he. He’s the best player in the NBA and he also might be the best GM in the NBA.
But what’s the “right” decision? It’s a subjective question based on internal definitions of ‘right.’ I choose to look at this from the perspective of LeBron’s desire to leave a legacy. In other words, I’d ask: What’s the most realistic and distinguished goal I can achieve? (by the way, isn’t that a question we should ask ourselves often?) If James asks himself this question, alone, using only his thoughts to construct an answer, it’d look like this:
- I’m not catching Jordan. It was my goal, but it’s no longer realistic. I’ve lost in the Finals three times already so even IF I get a 6th it won’t be equal. Jordan’s the G.O.A.T., what can I be?
- I’ve changed the league. The East has given up and the West has grown up. Youth and fluid play is winning, not defense. What does Miami’s roster look like without me?
- Who will benefit the most from me at my peak combination of prime talent and basketball maturity?
The answers to these questions would spin Captain Jack Sparrow’s compass directly toward Cleveland. LeBron isn’t going to be Jordan. In fact, he was never going to be Jordan. Because if Kobe couldn’t be Jordan, no one will ever be Jordan.
In Cleveland, suddenly, along with a hidden safe filled with irregularly weighted ping pong balls, there’s talent. Young talent. The kind LeBron loves to counsel. It’s a big part of who he is. So much so that his direct rival, Paul George, felt comfortable enough amidst a tense seeding battle to admit he wants to be mentored by LeBron. Going back to Cleveland affords him the chance to mentor and play alongside the best point guard he’s ever played with outside of All-Star games. Not to mention he’d be the best thing to ever happen to Andrew Wiggins.
But the most important question is the final one. Who deserves LeBron at his best?
Bringing a title to Cleveland will give him at least 3 Championships, and while respectable, it doesn’t compare to forever being known as the man, once just a kid from Akron, who broke Cleveland’s sports curse. Hometown Kid Comes Back To Save City — Stan Lee couldn’t write a better headline for the Daily Bugle.
Don’t underestimate that opportunity.
LeBron has lived Cleveland misery. He knows it well. He has family members who likely still remind him of it, and often. It’s true he ignored it once and added to their pain. But he was young and intrigued by life outside his familiar. When you’re young you don’t put much stock in cooky old people stories. As you mature a perspective develops which helps you hear the same stories, only with deeper kinship. Possibly even duty — an ‘if I could, I would’ compulsion — LeBron can.
Not only can James lift Cleveland sports out of the mud but the prodigal son could invert the parable and teach his elders the lesson. In returning he’d force one of the NBA’s worst owners to 1) admit defeat by publicly swallowing his pride, and 2) learn how to build a roster. Whether he’ll be a Cleveland Cavalier next season or not, he’s already spending Dan Gilbert’s money. It’s inarguable that LeBron makes his teammates better, but GMs and Owners now too? That’s worth remembering. That gives his name exclusivity and weight in any debate. That’s a legacy.