Eight years ago, the basketball world watched LeBron James announce that he was taking his talents to South Beach to team up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. The Decision, a 75-minute television special dedicated to LeBron’s free agency decision, was met with resentment by NBA fans across the world.
LeBron became the NBA’s biggest supervillain overnight. He was vilified by Ohioans and basketball fans alike, described as betraying his home state by forming a “superteam” in Miami to pursue easy championships.
Eight years later, LeBron is departing from the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time to join the Los Angeles Lakers. This time around, the move lacks the fireworks and theatrics that accompanied The Decision, with the official announcement coming via a subtle press release from his agency.
Despite the difference in rollout, the move still begs the question: what does this mean for LeBron’s legacy?
Now changing teams for the third time since being drafted to the Cavaliers, LeBron’s move to Los Angeles is much different than his first departure.
Since returning home, LeBron has brought Cleveland four Eastern Conference banners and a championship after defeating the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. This past season, he extended his NBA Finals streak to eight consecutive seasons, after dragging another lackluster Cavaliers squad past the Eastern Conference Finals.
His performance over the last four years has been unparalleled, which makes it difficult to be critical of LeBron for leaving. Unlike before his first departure, it is clear that LeBron has done everything in his power to bring basketball success to the city of Cleveland. Moreover, critics certainly cannot argue that he’s taking the easy way out by joining the Lakers.
LeBron’s move takes him to the Western Conference (West), a conference with arguably greater talent and better teams than the Eastern Conference (East). In the West, LeBron will have much more difficulty navigating his way to the finals with juggernauts like the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets standing in the way.
It seems clear that the safe move for LeBron’s legacy would have been to stay in the East, dominate the playoffs year after year, and extend his unprecedented Finals streak.
This would have kept LeBron fans’ favourite narrative alive: LeBron continues to drag bad teams to the Finals by virtue of his individual greatness, only to lose to the ‘unfair’ Warriors who have combined their forces to defeat him because they are unable to do so by themselves.
On top of this, LeBron is not joining a superteam like when he left for Miami, or as many of his peers have opted to do in the past few seasons.
LeBron joins a Lakers team with awkward pieces, from young and inexperienced players still developing into their full potential, to three ball-dominant guards lacking strong shooting abilities in Lonzo Ball, Lance Stephenson, and Rondo — players that will hinder LeBron from operating in his preferred point-forward role on the floor. Making things even more challenging for LeBron is that the defending champion Warriors have signed Demarcus Cousins for the coming season.
Arguably the best center in the league, Cousins provides the Warriors with a perfect remedy for their Achilles’ heel: offensive rebounding. With this acquisition, it seems like the chances of any team defeating the Warriors, let alone this newly assembled Lakers squad, are virtually non-existent.
The move to the Lakers seriously threatens LeBron’s legacy. NBA fans are notoriously fickle, so it seems certain that if the Lakers fail to acquire new talent and give LeBron some quality teammates to work with, his career will not be defined by his early success, but rather by his failure to excel in the face of adversity.