LeBron James’s offseason is now two days old, but the mortals have already begun to pry about his future. He, of course, insists that he hasn’t thought about his next move, which is a level of bullshit rarely seen outside of Pamplona. Whatever you think about the man, King James has always had a plan. One far grander than any those same mortals are asking about.
We’ve never seen someone like LeBron before, and not just because he’s Michelangelo’s David who can pass like Magic and now shoots better than Jordan. He is the only player who gets a one-hour ESPN special dedicated to his free agency decision. He is the one guy who can compel other players to take less money to play by his side. And he is the only player in the league who makes his team a title favorite every preseason.
Defining LeBron as a basketball player, though, is where things go awry. He isn’t after your mortal goals, and he doesn’t speak your mortal language, either. Global Icons rarely do.
So while he’s not being completely forthright in these exit interviews, LeBron isn’t lying when he says he’ll need to speak to his team before making any decisions on his future. He just doesn’t define ‘his team’ like you or I or any basketball player would. His team is his Akron crew — the creators, gatekeepers and purveyors of Everything LeBron.
James also isn’t lying when he says he doesn’t care about his legacy — mostly because he’s referring to the traditional notions of legacy as debated by the media and fans. The legacy that pits LeBron against other players and defines him in very rigid basketball terms. That’s not what he’s after.
Remember: Global Icon. King James is pretty damn big, but the globe remains bigger. There’s plenty left for him to conquer. Viewed through LeBron’s lens of grandeur, his next move won’t be about Wade or Bosh or ‘Melo; it will be about his unique goals. And what better way to control his own destiny than to elevate himself entirely above the league itself?
Welcome to The King James Tour, where money and titles are byproducts of his total control.
LeBron already has twice changed the modern NBA; first when he took a shorter extension with Cleveland, and later through the orchestration of the Big Three in Miami, where stars gave up a little to radically shift the league’s competitive landscape in their favor. His error as budding NBA Overlord, though, was signing a long-term deal with the Heat. That locked him in, leaving him too vulnerable to the whims of injury, avarice and executive execution, a painful lesson learned this postseason.
Now, LeBron can rectify things. One summer at a time.
Under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, there is no restriction as to the minimum length of contract a free agent can accept. Nor is there a restriction on taking as little money as is allowed. As such, James — if he wants to — can opt out with Miami and sign with any team in the league this summer. No cap room to throw him some token green? Fine, he’ll take the vet minimum.
Any team. For one season. And do that … Every. Single. Summer.
If LeBron wants to team up with Steph Curry and a bunch of shooters, that’s his prerogative. If he wants to play with his boy, Chris Paul, and toss lobs to Blake Griffin, so be it. If New York’s love affair with James is even the least bit reciprocal, James can wait until Phil Jackson puts a semi-competent roster together, and then land New York a title and an obligatory ride down the Canyon of Heroes. He can have all of that. Whenever and however he wants it. Without any long-term commitment whatsoever.
LeBron will turn 30 this December, and he’s already played nearly the same number of games Michael Jordan did in his entire career.
And as this NBA Finals showed, LeBron’s on-court fortunes are no different than they were seven years ago, when his upstart Cavaliers also got waxed by the Spurs. Quite simply, he didn’t have enough support, and he lost.
It’s no different from MJ needing Pippen, or Magic having Kareem and Worthy, or Bird orchestrating with McHale and Parish and DJ and others. Even all-time greats need help. And as LeBron gets older and the miles keep accumulating on his hoops odometer, he’ll not only need more consistent help, he’ll need the consistently right kind of help.
So why shouldn’t he be the master of his own fate, choosing the help that fits his needs? Every. Single. Summer.
Winning is monetizable. So is flexibility. So whatever LeBron gives up in mortal basketball salary can be clawed back, if that matters to a man well on his way to 10-figure wealth. Championships would come. Many of them. Who’s stopping Late-Prime LeBron when he has proper backup of his specific choosing?
LeBron would still control every June, like he has for the past four years, but he would then also control every July, which he hasn’t done since 2010.
Every. Single. Summer.
Whenever he finally closes his career, and we count his championships and all the different cities that would revere him for delivering a title, mere mortals (and Skip Bayless) can argue about what it all means. Can a mercenary be loved? Are his titles ‘valid’? Is he actually the best player ever?
Who gives a shit?
LeBron sure doesn’t. He knows he’s never going to win a comparison with Jordan, so he’s smartly defused that discussion. That doesn’t mean he can’t beat him. MJ ruled the NBA. LeBron can control it. Who’s the G.O.A.T. now?
@AndyGlockner is Executive Editor of @TheCauldron.