Dear Mr.LeBron James,
Pull up a chair, grab some Dippin Dots and maybe a Gatorade, because we have something to talk through. First off, I dearly pity the Cleveland Cavaliers. Left in the dust with a spotty Kevin Love and a sporadic Collin Sexton to pick up the pieces, their outlook looks bleak outside of a single promising rookie and potentially a few more high picks in the coming future. Your merciful return in 2015 gave the city of Cleveland life again, a town defined by your mere presence.
But no matter. As of today, it seems you will have a league-altering decision at your hands. The prospect of free agency has swirled in rumor mills and fan conversations for months now, long before anything official snapped but I suppose you have this situation in the forefront of your mind since you signed the dotted line. And as a reasonable man with a sound support system, we wish not to urge you to our favorite team, but rather urge you to make this decision wisely and thoughtfully.
It is not overstating it to say this free agency decision will define your legacy.
Your career up to this point has largely been considered one of the greatest the NBA has ever seen. Eight straight Finals appearances and irrevocably capturing the elusive title for Cleveland in 2016 finally gave your legacy enough juice to be compared to the great Michael Jordan. Before then, during your first stint in Cleveland, it seemed accepted you would come close, but never stand eye-to-eye with the icon. Stickling Bulls fans held firm and the majority of NBA fans still begrudgingly recognized Jordan as the greatest, even after your prosperous time in Miami.
While faded, the thin film of your 3-6 Finals record honestly will always be the weightiest argument against you, especially when compared to Jordans’ perfect 6-0. With a few more seasons in your prime, the number will more than likely shift just a tad but Jordans’ own flawlessness in the Finals will always be your fatal Achilles heel.
But now coming off a legendary playoff showing where you cemented your play as nearly all a team needs in order for legitimate contention a la Jordan, a large mass of minds were indeed changed in the notorious debacle. The debate spiked and a combination of relevancy and the presence of a tangible argument made their rounds from ESPN down. While the polarizing argument can never be truly settled nor ignored, don’t take this for granted. Your legacy can still be tarnished and reversed.
Comparing legacies, for the most part, will always be an argument of purely opinionated and sometimes frustratingly stubborn biases backed by the occasional number rather than certifying facts with a definite conclusion. It’s difficult to compare two patrons of such a free-flowing art and because of this murkiness, sheer opinions tend to dictate the two sides. Obviously, a debate of Larry Bird versus Brian Scalabrine in the Celtics honor roll will be settled quickly but the vague concept of greatness simply cannot be quantified nor definitively compared when two legends are set side-to-side.
And oftentimes, this puts a lot more sway on the general legacy of a player in the hands of fans than it does a players’ performances or successes. Numbers and facts will be cited but can be skewed and pulled from context. Because of this, players oddly have a limited part in their own legacy. While stats and winning help, more factors will always come into play that are almost completely out of your control.
In your case, however, you do have direct influence in not diminishing your legacy. You do get to choose your team and your destiny but most importantly, really how you handle the last few acts of your storied career. Your approach matters and settling for a team that already resembled a contender sans you puts your legacy at risk. In a very similar and recent situation, fellow superstar Kevin Durant took the path of least resistance for a ring. Durant, if a Thunder member for the rest of his career, would have retired as an esteemed hero in Oklahoma, despite the haunting hurdle of never winning a ring.
Instead, he dipped and teamed up with a squad that had previously won 72 games in order to steamroll the NBA. While rings, his Finals wins with the Warriors will always come with a little asterisk. Though he may have never won with the Thunder, he would have retired a treasure in Oklahoma City and been remembered for giving his all for the city. Now, he may never shake the snake persona and it will curse his all-time great bid.
Now I am not certain where your goals lie for the twilight of your career but throwing in the towel for an easy ring would be a larger dent in your legacy than 2011. So close to usurping Jordan and blowing it on a cheap ring with Houston could set you back beyond repair. With Jordan’s loyalty and allegorical never-say-die mentality as a deciding factor, accepting defeat at the hands of the Warriors will indefinitely be used against you for the rest of time.
Taking a rebuilding team to the next level or heck, staying home and not quitting on the hapless Cavaliers would possibly be what ultimately separates you from Jordan. Parallel to Durant, even if you never win again, battling for Cleveland would allow you to retire a hometown legend instead of losing their hearts for good because you ditched them for an indulgent ring.
The first Decision made you an enemy and repeating the superteam strategy could cause the amity you bought back to backfire. Betraying Cleveland not once, but twice could burn more bridges than you would like to accept. The endearing love from a city could evaporate instantly by stabbing them in the back and merely using them for championship berths when Cleveland is in good shape.
Your previously selfish tendencies in free agency are already well-documented and will be a knife in your side during comparisons. By attempting to form a third superteam, you show the league your nonexistent loyalty and frankly, your lack of appreciation towards cities that adore you. You had Cleveland in the palm of your hand and next time, they may not be so forgiving if you so desire to return. Your legacy as a player purely on the court may not be affected but quitting does not look pretty as an athlete.
But even if you do decide to bail, taking your talents to a franchise with not a lot to brag about and finding a way to win there instead of a contender that won without you could be enough to set your name above Jordan. In your incessant chase for the ghost in Chicago, proving equal willpower with a team that flounders without you would highlight your unmatched value.
Also, trying and failing with a team not expected to win is forgivable. But if Golden State crushes your new superteam, it will be a mistake no returning from. Your case will flatline and everything you have done in your second Cleveland term will be for naught. And even if you do win, it won’t mean all that much. Dragging the barebones Cavaliers to the Finals will always be more impressive than winning a ring with Houston or Boston.
In order to leapfrog Jordan, you must do something he has never done- win without a superstar cast. While all Bulls teams were not equal, Jordan never won without Scottie Pippen, John Paxson, or a Dennis Rodman to his side. Winning without an all-star to your side or an already-stellar crew as a crutch would, without a shadow of a doubt, put yourself above Jordan.
I hope this message finds you well. With not only the landscape of the entire league but your legacy itself resting in the palm of your upcoming decision, a misstep could completely upend how you will be remembered. Don’t follow the Durant path, don’t take the easy way out. We do not ask for you to take Sacramento the distance or even stay a Cavalier but forming the third superteam of your career could leave your legacy as just that-a man who couldn’t win without a super team.
The NBA Fans