Email Exchange: The Summer of LeBron, V2.0

Lebron

Today’s article: “Agent to Heat: LeBron opting out,” Chris Broussard, ESPN

Cameron Seib:

SportsCenter must’ve done something nice for the kids last night, because it was just given a summer’s worth of programming. LeBron James has exercised the early termination option in his contract, making him a free agent.

Of the three major sports leagues (hockey ain’t a real sport ’round these parts, boy), I know the least about the NBA, but I don’t get the impression this was unexpected. It was speculated the Big 3 might have to rework their contracts in order to remain in Miami together, and this is potentially a move in that direction. And beyond that, LeBron loses nothing by this, as he can return to the Heat whenever, should he not find other offerings so appetizing.

The big question: where does LeBron take his talents this time? My hope is Cleveland. I always wished he’d stayed there. The prospect of him growing up in Akron, entering the draft the year Cleveland happened to get the first pick, and then remaining with the Cavs his entire legendary career was too much for my narrative fetishes. Of course, now his legend can never be so pure, but it’d still be cool to see him return home. With Kyrie Irving and this year’s top-pick, LeBron could certainly continue winning titles in Cleveland, and perhaps ultimately still be remembered as a Cavalier. But, really, I can’t make an informed guess on where he actually ends up.

Mike, your NBA knowledge far outweighs mine. Which team do you think is selling out of #6 jerseys by summer’s end, and is that place different from where you’d personally like to see him go?

Michael Rosen:

I’m sure you’re overstating the discrepancy between our amount of NBA knowledge; anyone who knows who I’m referring to when I say the name Greg Ostertag has to consider themselves an NBA junkie.

So for the interest of this particular blog post, let’s assume that LeBron is leaving Miami for another destination. Most will write exactly what you wrote; yes, it makes sense that’d he’d opt out, and he’s probably returning soon. We don’t want to be this guy. Of course, I’m foregoing that guy to be this guy, but whatever, we’re a sports blog and it’s our duty to sports blog it up sometimes.

Alright, so, where could LeBron go that people haven’t already discussed? I’m going to jump off the popular narrative train and onto the bandwagon train, and say there is a way he could end up starting next season as a member of the Golden State Warriors. I know, I know, faithful readers, this is a preposterous claim, and I might as well be saying that the Sonics are returning next season (too soon?). BUT, hear me out. David Lee’s contract is quite obviously the big cap-gobbler here, preventing anyone from reasonably making this prediction. But imagine some desperate team took the bait on his $15MM deal. Is it that inconceivable that LeBron would take a very slight pay cut to create what could possibly be the best offense of all time, in one of the best markets in the country, in one of the best areas in the country?

That sentence made a lot of claims, so let’s break some of the more controversial ones down. The best offense of all time talk is pretty outlandish, especially when you consider they only finished 12th in the NBA in offensive efficiency last season. But, that was under the reign of Mark Jackson, probably the most backwards-thinking (in more ways than one (shots fired)) coach in the NBA last season. So many isos. So little ball movement. Steph Curry ought to enable a top-three offense on his own, but Jackson lacked so much creativity that it stifled their potential. Enter Steve Kerr. Kerr’s thought to be one of the brighter minds in basketball, and has already said all of the right things w/r/t acknowledging the analytics side of the ball and spacing the floor. Imagine a Steph/Bron pick-and-roll, or a Bron iso with Steph and Klay on the wings, ready for a kick-out. That would be literally unstoppable. Two of the greatest shooters of all time paired with LeBron? Game over. And that’s not even discussing the defensive potential of a Klay-Draymond-Bron-Igoudala lineup.

Okay, so I’m ranting on way too long about why it makes sense for LeBron to come to Golden State, so I’ll try to shorten this up a little bit. Some of the places not named Miami people rumor LeBron to be going to include Chicago and Cleveland. You’re telling me you’d rather spend your winters in the fuckin’ Midwest over sunny, temperate Berkeley? (Let’s face it, no way Bron’s living in Oakland). He’s been known to be a well-read type; maybe he could even drop in on some classes. Okay, now I’m stretching way too much, so let’s move on.

All of this talk – discussions like the one I just had for the last three paragraphs – is going to dominate the blogosphere until LeBron finally makes his decision. It’s not a stretch to think the cycle of ridicule and bashing from the first free agency period might return, as virtually every sportswriter in the country is required to have some kind of “take” on the issue. When there’s a dearth of angles to take and an army of angle-takers, there’s going to be an abundance of absurdity in the market. And, unfortunately, there will be enough people buying the shit the hot-takers are selling them to make it seem like a legitimate issue.

So I guess what I’m trying to get at is, do you think LeBron’s character/reputation is bound to take a hit if he leaves once more? Or is this just media-manufactured drek, and will he maintain his current status as almost universally beloved? Furthermore, is it right for his character to be questioned? Also, is my dream of hanging out with LeBron in my James Joyce seminar justified?

CS:

Ostertag’s at the very fringes of my knowledge. But, no question, my forte when it comes to talking NBA is recalling the clowning players of years past. Best joke I’ve heard today? Jonathan Bender.

What I can’t talk is actual analysis, so it’s difficult to dispute anything you’ve said. Your claims make intuitive sense, though. Steph and Klye have already been dubbed the Splash Bros., so the thought of them consistently having more space to shoot must be an absolute to terror to non-Warrior fans.

And one more thing before I talk LeBron’s image. I counted three “all time”s and one “literally” in your response. If you do the math correctly, I believe that’s a certified #HotTake. It’s all over, Mike, we’ve submitted, the oppressed can no longer be distinguished from their oppressors. Today’s sports blogosphere is exactly what Orwell warned of in Animal Farm.

Anyways, the LeBron hate that permeates sports commentary is so stupid. Partly because it’s plain irrational. Despite playing HOF-caliber basketball in Cleveland, LeBron was every day the victim of dumb people making the dumb argument that he’d never be “great” without winning a championship. So he teams up with Wade and Bosh, a move specifically done to better his chances of capturing a title. But that just created more hyperventilating critics! No one who’d said LeBron needed a championship gave him credit for trying to make that happen. And then you had a whole new gang of internet warriors who claimed LeBron gave up his chance to ever be great when he signed with Miami, because Bird and Magic didn’t need the help of other superstars or whatever. Their history books apparently didn’t include the names “Kareem Abdul-Jabar” or “James Worthy.”

The most enraging thing about all the LeBron talk, though, is how often it only serves to overlook his greatness. The one thing he gets more shit for than his move to South Beach is his apparent inferiority to Michael Jordan. Any time LeBron has the slightest on-court misstep, you can bank on a bunch of “MJ wouldn’t have done that” tweets from dudes who know him as a Wizard. For one, though MJ still probably holds the title of “all-time greatest,” LeBron is legitimately in the discussion, and my guess is he takes the crown from his predecessor before retiring. And two, anyone who scoffs at the thought of LeBron being better than Michael Jordan seems to forget the only reason the two get compared is because it’s real fucking close. Who gives a shit if LeBron isn’t quite the best player ever? If nothing else, we can agree he’s at least in the top-five. Appreciate that!

I was surprised that you said LeBron is “almost universally loved.” I’ve always been under the impression that it’s more the opposite, which makes me sad, because he really should be adored all around. Not that a player’s personal life is anyone else’s to judge, but in a league notorious for its young stars losing their way, I think it says something the LeBron, who has faced more distractions than anyone in sports history, is married to his high school sweetheart, to whom both his kids belong. And no, I don’t think your dream of talking Joyce with LeBron is unjustified; you’ve heard him talk – he could probably analyze the shit out of Stephen Dedalus.

An intelligent family man who also happens to be the best athlete in American sports should get king-like treatment. Despite the name, LeBron sees anything but.

MR:

Damn, you caught me, my dream of achieving Skip Bayless’s heights are over. I’ve now had an hour or so to cool down from the simmering temperature of my previous take, and I must concede that it is a bit far-fetched to see LeBron in a Dubs uni. Apparently, though, over the course of this email exchange, this belief has gone from obscure and crazy to semi-plausible; Chad Ford, noted ESPN basketball person, was quoted as saying Golden State is a reasonable place for him to land. And then there’s this, whatever this is. Don’t shoot down my dreams, Cam!

I agree with you wholeheartedly on the LeBron hate coming from a place of stupidity. The reason I say he’s universally loved, though, is because this hate doesn’t really seem to exist among the people I talk about sports with both in real life and on the internet. Yeah, I’m well aware that if you saunter into the comments section on any given ESPN article that mentions LeBron, you’re going to find a cesspool of “LeChoke!” and “LeBum.” But I really don’t think anyone over the age of 16-years-old and with a modicum of intelligence can hate on LeBron for the choices he’s made, nor his accomplishments. He’s been the consensus best player in the league for at least three or four years, and as you mentioned, he’s as stand-up a guy as you can find. I’m sure that in 10 years, when he’s long retired and Anthony Davis or Andrew Wiggins carries the title as “best player in the universe,” you’ll find a bunch of people touting him just like people tout Jordan today. Time glazes over all.

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