When LeBron James decided to take his talents to the Lakers this past summer in the short-story version of “The Decision,” James’ objective was obvious: to build his empire.
What James did see, however, was an opportunity to expand as a business and a brand and potentially win a title or two on top of that. But, the latter was clearly in the back of James’ mind rather than at the forefront.
Make no mistake about it: LeBron’s decision to head to Los Angeles was based more on what he will be doing once his playing career is over rather than what he is currently doing while playing.
And I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that at all. It’s James’ choice, and if he wants to set himself up for a good business future, then more power to him.
But here is the thing: you can’t have it both ways.
You can’t knowingly put your NBA career on the backburner and still proclaim yourself the greatest of all-time when you still have quite a bit of work to do to reach that point.
Let’s be honest here: barring a drastic change in circumstances over the next year or two, LeBron is done winning championships. Unless he joins a stacked team to ring chase in a few years, chances are, he will retire with three titles.
Of course, there is also the outside chance that the Lakers make a blockbuster move here or there, but it doesn’t look like they will be getting Anthony Davis, and it also does not seem like any big-name free agents want to join James at this stage.
So, basically, James is going to have to hope guys like Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram develop at a rapid pace and reach All-Star status very soon, and even then, the Lakers probably won’t hanging any banners, because James is not getting any younger.
James currently has three rings and is 3-6 in the finals overall. He is undoubtedly one of the best players to ever play the game, but you are going to have a hard time convincing people other than Shannon Sharpe and Nick Wright that you are the GOAT with that type of finals record, especially when the guy you are chasing, Michael Jordan, is 6-0.
You can pull out all of the usual platitudes you want about how rings aren’t the be-all-end-all, but when you are talking about the greatest of all-time, yes; rings matter, and Jordan has James doubled up in that regard and doesn’t have a single finals loss on his resume.
Let’s also take into consideration that His Airness never missed the playoffs during his run with the Chicago Bulls, only failing to qualify once he returned to play for the Washington Wizards in 2002 when he was 39 years old and out of the NBA for four years.
Meanwhile, James missed the playoffs his first two years in the league and is about to miss the playoffs again, this time when he is still widely regarded as the best player in the NBA.
When it’s all said and done, that is going to matter when stacking LeBron up against the rest of the all-time greats, particularly Jordan.
The thing is, James had to know this type of thing could potentially happen when he joined the Lakers. I’m not sure he envisioned missing the postseason, but he certainly had to know that Los Angeles wasn’t a title contender and that there was a chance he could end up essentially playing there by himself.
That begs the question: does LeBron seriously think he has already done enough to merit legitimate greatest of all-time consideration? Or does he merely not care so much about that anymore and simply wants to focus on business opportunities?
If it’s the latter, then I commend him, because it shows that he is secure enough to not really be bothered by his all-time ranking nor what others think of him. But if it’s the former? Then my goodness, he is sorely mistaken.
James can try to spin it however he wants, but 20-30 years from now when we are examining the best players to ever step on the floor, he is not going to be ranked above MJ, nor is it going to be a toss-up debate.
Again, the only person who truly knows what LeBron is thinking is LeBron himself. You just have to wonder if he is thinking clearly or thinking with irrational hubris.
James is a phenomenal businessman and will surely earn million and billions once he retires from the NBA, but if he thinks for a second that not winning anything with the Lakers won’t stunt—or even damage—his legacy, then he needs to reevaluate his position.