When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010, he did so out of necessity. He was endeavoring to shape and grow his brand, a brand that was becoming increasingly global, yet did not carry the all-important association of champion. He immediately shifted the balance of power in the NBA, leading the Heat to four straight Finals and winning the coveted championship twice.
James’s return to the Cavaliers in 2014 was visceral, a son of Ohio seeking to fulfill a burning passion to bring the City of Cleveland a championship, which he did in 2016, Cleveland’s first major sports title since 1964. His next move, according to the most desired free-agent in all of sports, will be profoundly based on family considerations more so than chasing another championship to enhance his brand or legacy.
“The one thing that I’ve always done is considered, obviously, my family,” said James shortly after the Cavaliers lost Game 4 of the NBA Finals 108-85, swept 4-0 by the Golden State Warriors. “Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn’t around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that.”
Whichever team James plays for next season—even if he remains a Cavalier—it’s a certainty that team will be one of the best in the league. Nevertheless, in losing again to the Warriors in the Finals, a team that prides itself on its basketball IQ as much as their immense physical skills, the 33-year-old four-time league MVP said collective basketball intelligence is a prevailing factor in determining his landing spot.
“In order to win, you’ve got to have talent, but you’ve got to be very cerebral, too,” asserted James. “Listen, we’re all NBA players. Everybody knows how to put the ball in the hoop. But who can think throughout the course of the game?
“This is so challenging for me to sit up here and say, because people who really don’t know the game don’t really know what I’m talking about. They just think that you go out, and, ‘Oh, LeBron, you’re bigger and faster and stronger than everybody, you should drive every single time and you should dunk every single play and you should never get tired, never.’ Like, it’s a video game and you went on the options and you turned down fatigue all the way to zero and injuries all the way down to zero. So we come back here and we get the minds and we build a championship team.”
The anticipation leading up to James’s announcement will be exasperating for many NBA executives and fans who believe James might be wearing their team’s uniform next season. It won’t be filled with the level of drama of the decision back in 2010 but the implications are equally weighty.