This deal relates to the start of LeBron James’ extensive farewell tour.
LeBron James has undoubtedly committed to a degree of short-term professional mediocrity by extending his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, which sounds contradictory for an incredibly ambitious superstar determined to surpass Michael Jordan as the best player in the history of the sport.
We all know that winning championships is the name of the game for the select few basketball aristocracy, such as King James, who are deserving of the title of Greatest Of All Time. We also know that LA is undoubtedly unprepared to give their freshly extended superstar a chance to win another championship this year or in the one or two further seasons during which he will now be a Laker.
However, the extension — which keeps LeBron in Los Angeles for at least one more season, through the 2023–24 campaign, and which sources confirmed to CBS Sports includes that third-year player option for 2024–25 — fits perfectly with the fascinating place LeBron has reached in his career: Both an end-of-the-road great basking in the quality of life and personal advantages that come with life in Los Angeles, and a subtle strategic wink to his lifelong ambition of surpassing Jordan in the NBA Finals
This new deal’s strategy points to a more subdued, mature James, with equal amounts of personal over professional and long-term branding. In exchange for future, quality NBA time with his son and the urge to amass rings in the pursuit of the GOAT, he has traded in “not two, not three, not four” for something more intriguing and understated.
Let’s begin with the individual.
The Lakers organisation never had any doubts that this would occur because, well, LeBron likes his life in Los Angeles. There, he is content. He is happy. Even though Russell Westbrook is the personification of all that is wrong with basketball, he also has a life outside of basketball and is one of the most motivated and ambitious athletes in NBA history.
For me, it’s true that there is life outside of work. Applied to you. True for both the driven and undriven among us, as well as the richest and poorest. The player option under this agreement gives LeBron James the freedom to leave the Lakers in the summer of 2024 if, as is likely, his oldest son Bronny James declares for the NBA Draft.
A long-stated LeBron aim that reveals his priorities—happiness over winning, in its most obvious but genuine form—is another aspect of quality of life that puts happiness over competitiveness.
LA appeals to LeBron. He enjoys living there. He desires to join his kid in the league. And this agreement gives him access to all of that. No, Lakers fans, LeBron’s confidence that the team can or even will win championships over the next two to three years is in no way implied by this extension. They won’t, virtually sure. Both their construction and placement are poor. And it’s unlikely that will change.
The second point is a reminder that people are complex and that two things might be true at the same time. In this instance, LeBron is putting his family and quality of life ahead of his career, and staying in LA also has long-term tactical advantages for his lifelong fixation of persuading everyone that he is the GOAT.
Even if retired athletes claim they despise such discussion, GOAT debates are entertaining, fascinating, and worth our attention. They typically like it as much as the rest of us do—at least in private.) However, in contrast to how these arguments frequently rage on, no firm calculations are made before concluding if Jordan > LeBron, LeBron > Jordan, Steph > LeBron, or Kareem > all of them.
Choosing the greatest NBA player of all time requires more art than science. Philosophy, not vote counting, is at issue. It’s alchemy rather than a checklist of guarantees.
LeBron is aware of it. He is well on his way to finishing the last few boxes, and he is aware that he must be historically significant. He is aware that he needs to win numerous titles, and four is sufficient, Michael Jordan supporters. He is aware, though, that things like pop culture (“Be Like Mike” certainly didn’t hurt Jordan) and other achievements along the way can alter public perception.
Sure, you need to win games and championships, but you also need to win people’s hearts and minds.
And breaking that record is a crucial step for LeBron, who needs 1,326 more points to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time greatest scorer. However, this agreement guarantees that neither an injury nor an off-year will prevent LeBron from surpassing Kareem as a Laker. He should overtake him next season.
Consider this. Setting that record as a Los Angeles Laker has much more lasting power than doing so elsewhere. Call it a brand impact, a wow factor, a long-term Q-rating enhancer, whatever you want to call it. LeBron has made sure he will create history wearing the colours most likely to heighten the impact and power of point number 38,388: the classic purple and gold.
Consider the sheer number of legendary athletes who played for the Lakers. These celebrities were larger than life, and their names, like Kareem, sound more mythical than masculine. Shaq, Kobe, and Magic. The emblem. LeBron belongs to the pantheon of these athletes.
LeBron’s current goal is to become the all-time leading scorer because, in the long term, that record is at least as significant as, say, returning to Cleveland for a third time and possibly — very possibly — winning a fifth championship.
Out of reach are two rings. The record of Kareem isn’t. So why not do it as a Laker?
I can assure you that many people close to LeBron think the same way if that appears overly thought out and half-baked. He is now as much a corporation as a player, and those tasked with safeguarding his brand’s reputation are fixated on its history and heritage.
This Lakers agreement isn’t about winning, at least not in terms of actual games. Despite how unlikely it may sound, it’s about the start of LeBron James’ extended farewell tour.
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