Nathaniel Friedman on the creative possibilities LeBron has created for himself throughout his career.
LeBron James can do whatever he wants. This offseason, there was rampant speculation that James would form a new super-team to challenge the Warriors. This made sense insofar as superstars are supposed to play for championships. Instead, James chose to sign with the Lakers, where he will mentor a talented young team, spend more time with his family, pursue off-court interests, and probably not contend in the immediate future. It’s a move James is only able to get away with because he’s currently so beloved—and because it’s unclear anyone can beat Golden State for the time being.
As a career choice, it also could not depart more sharply from the template set by Michael Jordan. Once Jordan started winning, he kept winning, and only stopped because he walked away from the game at the height of his powers. His competitive drive was unmatched, its malignancy taken as proof of sincerity—an equation that has been to farcical extremes in the case of Kobe Bryant. If he failed to empathize with his less-talented teammates, it was because he held himself to an excruciatingly high standard, not because he was a warped human being. (Or so the argument goes.) Jordan reached his zenith and stayed there. All that mattered was the tireless pursuit of RINGZ. Anything else was a distraction, a diversion, or an inexcusable compromise. It was that simple.
LeBron James has eagerly, often intentionally, contradicted this model. His early eschewal of “killer instinct” in favor of shrewd decision-making signaled a desire to chase Jordan’s GOAT status on his own terms (a lesson that was thoroughly lost on Bryant). The decision to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, which supposedly undercut James’s alpha status and every single sports platitude about “earning it,” was informed by Jordan’s example. His return to Cleveland picked up the prophetic “Chosen One” storyline right where he’d left it, and the subsequent title was so emotional, so