There is a stark contrast with how Lebron James announced his transfer to the Miami Heat and his departure for the Los Angeles Lakers. Circumstances and back stories come into consideration.
When the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player announced that he is taking his talents to South Beach a little over eight years ago, he had to reveal his decision in front of Jim Gray in a much-maligned television special. But by dissecting the premise, it made much sense. See, he was the greatest player in the league at that time. He has already proven that he can dominate games with a unique combination of grace, agility, and brute force. He was simply the man.
But great as he is, an NBA title that will validate his resume has eluded him for seven seasons. With his priority back then being basketball and all endorsements related to it, he had to announce his transfer in a grandiose manner because he is not contented on being just another talented player anymore. The time is up for the Cleveland Cavaliers to build a squad around him as he seeks championship glory elsewhere. ‘The Decision’ commences Act II for King James’ career to which he delivered a splendid performance by winning back-to-back titles for the Heat, as well as ending Cleveland’s 52-year title drought when he came back.
Now, his decision to join the Lakers was done in business-like fashion. There were no controversial TV specials or cryptic social media posts published. Instead, Klutch Sports, a sports management agency James co-owns with close friend Rich Paul, released a statement that he agreed to a four year-$154 million deal. It’s as simple as an office memo and the basketball world need not wait long to know where he is going. Even the tweet that announced his signing simply reads: “Officially signed with the @Lakers @KingJames”. No fluff yet it brings excitement to Southern California.
So, why did Lebron go the subtle route? Because in markets such as Cleveland and Miami, you had to do something to gain attention. Yes, the Heat did win the 2006 NBA crown. But, it is often excluded in the conversation about the greatest championship teams of all time. In contrast, people always pay attention about the Lakers due to its legacy and its global fan base. Supporters of the Lakers won’t put up with the drama of a Decision 2.0 because they have been accustomed to legends delivering titles throughout their history. Plus, the stars in the stands are often brighter than the ones in the hardwood.
Yet despite the difference in strategy, the mission for James remains the same: bring championship glory to Laker nation. That’s the only feat that will validate whether his stint was a success or a failure. But unlike his three previous championships, a ring in L.A. will have major significance to his legacy. First, he will bring back a storied organization to basketball relevance after missing the playoffs for the last five seasons and incurring a franchise-worst 17-65 record. Second, his legend will grow in the eyes of the media because that’s what happens to great players who have competed for big markets like Los Angeles and New York.
Third, he gets to be the first NBA superstar to lead three different teams to a title. That’s a great argument in the Greatest Player of All-Time conversation for no other player in league history has done that. Back in the day, the great ones often stayed with one team until they retire or realize that their championship window is closing. Only Robert Horry and John Salley have won titles with three different teams but they are more of rotation players, not superstars.
Likewise, player movement nowadays means that teams had to adjust to new teammates and chemistry might not be in perfect blend. This does not include the uncertainty the comes with a new environment and increased expectations. Fourth, he gets to be mentioned in the same breath with other Laker greats who have been part of 16 league titles. A bronze statue outside the Staples Center will be in the books as well.
But for all the hype that LA-bron is getting, there are still caution signs. Despite having promising young talent and gritty veterans, the current Lakers roster is nowhere as competitive with the likes of Golden State or Houston. They will make the playoffs but they might not get past the second round given how daunting teams in the Western Conference are.
For Lakers fans, be patient. For the first time in over half a decade, there’s finally reason to be highly optimistic about your squad. Lebron James, together with the team’s brass, will have at least three years to deliver title number 17 (because Lebron’s fourth year is a player option). But if you have been paying attention, Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson hinted during interviews that it will be a two-summer process. After the one-year deals that offered this season will expire, they will have enough cap space to sign at least two superstars. When the time comes that they negotiate with these highly-coveted free agents, three words is all they need to convince the likes of Klay Thompson, Karl Anthony-Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, or Myles Turner to don the purple and gold.
“They have Lebron”.