Born and raised a short 45 minutes away from his eventual kingdom was a man larger than life, a man who brought ever-lasting royalty to the starving city of Cleveland. This man goes by the name LeBron James and besides for a short stint in Miami, the city of Cleveland has been his kingdom over the last decade and a half.
Upon slaying the dragon that was the 73-win Golden State Warriors in 2016 in truly historical fashion, the King came into this season hoping to defend his crown, but unfortunately ran into what likely may be the most talented team the NBA has ever laid eyes on.
That 73 win dragon that James ever so impressively slayed the year before took advantage of a rise in the salary cap and having their reigning MVP signed under a team friendly contract by adding the only realistic threat to James’ crown since 2012; Kevin Durant, the 7 foot freak who combines acts of athleticism the league has rarely seen with a jumper as accurate as the world’s greatest long range sniper.
The undefeated threat of Father Time is slowly creeping up on LeBron and he’ll have some career defining decisions to make in the near future.
Re-up with Cleveland after the 2017-2018 season and keep chipping away at Golden State’s armor in hopes of possibly piercing through? Or venture off in search of greener pastures that give him a greater shot to win a title. Playing with his banana boat buddies Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul is also an option for LeBron.
This isn’t just a decision that’ll affect the team he leaves and the team he may decide to take his talents to. In fact, this is a monumentous decision that could completely alter the NBA landscape.
But more importantly, for LeBron, this is a decision that will affect his legacy and how he’s viewed for generations to come, maybe even long after he’s gone. This decision could impact the chances of surpassing LeBron’s only remaining obstacle in the league: that ghost in Chicago.
The Michael Jordan comparisons now come on a daily basis and there are many who follow, cover and even play in the league that believe James has already surpassed Jordan as the GOAT. But has he? And does he think he has?
LeBron’s first eight years in Cleveland were a dog fight every single night. 2007 was his rise to stardom as he beat the Eastern Conference power house Detroit Pistons in the Conference Finals. This incredible feat was accomplished with super human performances that included scoring 25 straight points and 28 of 30 to win game 5. The following game LeBron secured the Cleveland Cavaliers first NBA Finals birth.
Beating Detroit in an effort to get to the Finals only resulted in a sweep to Greg Popovich, Tim Duncan and the juggernaut San Antonio Spurs.
LeBron did everything for that Cavs team, as he has for every team since, but the difference with that group was that LeBron’s running mate was an aging Zydrunas Ilgauskas and looking back on it now, it was a miracle that they even made it to the Finals.
All due respect to Big Z, as they call him in Cleveland, but at that point in his career he was exactly worthy of being the second best player on a championship caliber team.
The Cavaliers were unable to make it back to the Finals the following years as they ran into Dwight Howard and his massive shoulders in Orlando, as well as the newly constructed “Big 3” in Boston, which ultimately led to LeBron’s departure for South Beach. Well that and Cleveland’s refusal to surround LeBron with real talent.
We all know how Miami went. Not three, not four, not five, not six, but back-to-back titles and four straight Finals later, LeBron made the heart-warming move of the century as he came home to Cleveland.
In his return letter LeBron talked about how he would have to be patient with his new, young and inexperienced Cavs team. But he was a man determined to fulfill the promise he once made of bringing a championship home to Northeast Ohio.
In 2016 he did so. After a historical 3-1 comeback that still is the central theme of jokes around the NBA, the Cavs were crowned and Cleveland became the city of Champions.
Now, the Cavaliers look to be in slight turmoil after a loss to the Warriors in 5 games and are scrambling to hire a new GM after Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and David Griffin mutually parted ways. Griffin was responsible for the construction of the current Cavs roster and was a big reason why the Cavs won the title in 2016. Gilbert and Griffin didn’t see eye to eye on the future of the Cavs and for right now we don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.
These days Gilbert is on the search for a new GM to replace Griffin while also looking to improve his roster in hopes of competing with the Warriors next season. Big names such as Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade are linked to the Cavs when it comes to retooling the roster.
This past season the Cavaliers made a mockery of the East, with their single blemish coming at the hands of a scrappy Isaiah Thomas-less Celtics team.
So why would LeBron leave?
After seven straight NBA Finals appearances and three titles to show for it, LeBron has dominated the Eastern conference for much of the last decade. Death, taxes and LeBron getting to the NBA Finals is life.
Purely from a talent standpoint, the Cavs give LeBron the best chance to compete until he eventually decides to hang up his shoes one day.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are all-stars. Love is in his prime and Irving is just now entering his at 25 years of age. Irving has shown signs of becoming the alpha dog that LeBron will eventually need alongside him nearing the tail end of his career.
LeBron is in search of that teammate whom he can pass the torch to while he rides off into the sunset averaging 15 points and 12 assists a game. This is Irving. LeBron himself has said that Irving is an eventual MVP in this league and it might happen sooner rather than later.
Alongside Irving and Love stands Tristan Thompson, the hardest working and most durable player in the league, and one that not so coincidentally shares an agent with LeBron, in Rich Paul.
Thompson is invaluable to the Cavs and to LeBron, hence the $82 million contract he signed a few years ago. A guy like Tristan does all the dirty work for LeBron. Think of him as the God father’s hit man, a subtle reference to LeBron’s favorite movie.
The rest of the team is filled with players who play their roles to perfection, thus resulting in a well-oiled machine. Sure they could use an upgrade to their bench as well as some young athletic legs, but the foundation is in place and as long as LeBron is in Cleveland, players will want to come play with him.
Whether or not the Cavs make any drastic moves this offseason, such as trading for Carmelo Anthony, or simply upgrading their bench with defensive guys and playmakers, the Cavs have a great opportunity to make a fourth straight trip to the Finals, which would be an eighth for LeBron and ninth overall.
The Eastern conference is a breeze and the only real competition the Cavs have is the Boston Celtics who even with the addition of Gordon Hayward, don’t seem to pose too great of a threat to the Cavs.
It wouldn’t make any sense for LeBron to go elsewhere when Cleveland gives him the best opportunity to win, but maybe at this point in his career, LeBron wants more than just to win.
Rumors have begun to spread about LeBron leaving Cleveland and possibly taking his talents west this time, to LA to be exact. He has a home in Los Angeles, is very into the entertainment business and loves to continue growing his brand in a potentially bigger market.
But here’s why that won’t happen: LeBron has been in the spotlight his entire NBA career and even long before then, while he was still just a youngster tearing up the nets at St. Vincent St. Mary High school in Akron, Ohio.
Every decision LeBron has ever made has been scrutinized to the 100th degree. He’s quite possibly the most scrutinized athlete of all-time, which makes it all the more impressive that he’s lived up to every expectation set before him.
But we all know very well how much of a legacy guy LeBron is. He wants to leave an impact on the league that lasts long after he’s gone, like Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and many more have before him have.
In a recently released video on his platform Uninterrupted, he mentioned how “it’s more of a bigger picture and it’s more of… all these kids, all these people that need inspiration, need a way to get out. And I believe I’m that way out…. Let’s worry about us trying to build something that’s bigger.”
LeBron is a very intelligent man and he knows what he’s built in Northeast Ohio and how many lives he’s changed. The line where he says about building something that’s bigger isn’t just about his brand, it’s about the development of his community, the kids he hopes to continue to reach and last but not least, his legacy.
If he stays in Cleveland, that legacy is cemented, rock solid. If he retires a Cleveland Cavalier, he joins greats the likes of Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and many more who didn’t hop from team to team their entire careers.
Cleveland is LeBron’s and it always will be, just like Chicago is Jordan’s. LeBron leaving to a city such as LA isn’t feasible if you really think about the way LeBron’s brain operates. LA is Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kobe Bryant’s spotlight. LeBron shines in his own spotlight, not in the shadow of others.
Yes LeBron left Cleveland for Miami back in 2010, but he made it all well when he came back four years later. He delivered on his promise and won Cleveland its first championship in over 50 years and has impacted the city in a way never seen before. What better way to finish his career than in the city where it began.
Now that’s what I call a legacy.