The near-constant speculation and toothless predictions regarding LeBron James’ next career move are over. He has chosen the Los Angeles Lakers, the flashiest franchise in a place he already owns a home. The place nearest to Hollywood. The place where one would go to fast-track any post-playing goals of becoming a global icon and king of all media.
It was the most obvious choice. And probably the correct one, both for basketball and non-basketball reasons. We should not be surprised. We should also not be falling all over ourselves to pat each other on the back for correctly predicting this chain of events.
This was always going to happen. The rest was a sideshow of media creation. Anyone who actually knew anything already knew the ending. It was the know-nothings who turned this into a snowball, a circus.
Why? Because it’s what we do.
Human bullhorn LaVar Ball said last September that James would come to the West Coast to play with his son Lonzo. Shaquille O'Neal got it partially right in predicting a Lakers superteam. A bevy of sports shouters saw it coming and will gladly beat their chests today reminding you. Some were willing to throw spaghetti against the wall earlier than others, knowing they’d pay no consequences for being proven wrong.
And while all of those who could read the 48-point handwriting on the wall should be acknowledged, briefly, for not saying James would walk away from the game of basketball, let’s chill out on planning any parades for them.
The one exception, maybe, is Peter Vecsey, who was willing to say James-to-the-Lakers late last summer with no hedge.
Maybe we should consider the pragmatism and cynicism of this whole situation. Let’s start with the former. James, whose only major misstep through the years was the first ill-conceived Decision, knew he’d need to take a different approach to leaving Cleveland this time.
What’s the first step in any seismic change? Planting the seeds early to prime the pump, to get the world used to the idea of change so it doesn’t come out of left field. It’s easy to forget just how intense the James-L.A. chatter was after the 2017 NBA Finals. He was as good as halfway out the door. Then the news of Kyrie demanding a trade came out, and there were plenty of reports that possible targets like Jimmy Butler did not want to go to Cleveland, and LeBron would not commit beyond the upcoming season.
Then, as de facto general manager, he engineered a February deadline trade with the Lakers that both helped the Cavs immediately and freed up cap room for the purple and gold. A genius touch that should have set off alarm bells, but was allowed to happen. Truth and time help us see the deal in a different light now, but anyone paying attention saw it for what it was in real time.
The Lakers situation affords him the chance to play with a deep stable of young talent that will only mature over four years. He can age gracefully and rely on younger legs. And he can do it in a place that feels like home, will give him access to the business contacts he desires, and a place desperate for a winner.
It all makes perfect sense.
Which brings me to that cynicism thing. What if all the handwringing and predictive chatter was less prudent sports topic and more synthetic content spackle used to patch up holes, to generate clicks, eyeballs or earbuds?
James is the golden goose. The traffic-driver. The most valuable currency for those who cover sports. There’s a reason this website and all the others have been breathlessly reading the tea leaves. There’s a reason a rather straightforward process has been treated as though it required the Rosetta Stone to understand.
There’s value in going against the grain. There’s value in the hypothetical. Operating and analyzing the most logical (that James would go to the Lakers) long ago started reaching the point of diminishing returns. Ergo, the mind wandered and imagined what if.
Sunday’s news cementing the deal was a smelling salt, alerting us all to refocus on what’s been happening under our noses this whole time. The truth is that James has been leaving full loaves of bread, not just the crumbs. Everyone just got sidetracked — many of them willingly.