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The LeBron James narrative

Basketball/Sports by

“The human mind is addicted to stories,” author Jonathan Gottschall said. It is for this reason, he claims in his book, The Storytelling Animal, that our minds wander and turn information into stories. Sports are one of the best examples of this tendency. A fan’s addiction to narrativization creates incredible tales of heroes and villains, Davids and Goliaths, heel turns, and redemptions.

LeBron James is a superstar—many believe him to be the best basketball player in the world—so, it’s no wonder that he has a first-rate story. But, this summer, he could turn down a near-perfect ending to the best narrative the sporting world has ever seen.

His saga began in his birthplace of Akron, Ohio before he moved a mere 45 minutes down the highway to Cleveland. It took an unbelievable stroke of luck for the Cavaliers to win the draft lottery and select James first overall in 2003. Cavs fans embraced the superstar for years, as he led the Cavaliers on five postseason runs—even if he couldn’t finish the job and bring home a championship in his first stint with the team.

Of course, it was bitter on numerous fronts when he left in 2010 and became a villain during his chapter in Miami. But, a return to Cleveland in 2014 healed the wounds; and the Cavaliers fans embraced him once again. It didn’t take long for James to deliver the championship the Cleveland fan base craved: In 2016, his second season back, he led the team to a remarkable comeback victory against a legendary Golden State Warriors team in the finals. It was a special moment for both James and the city of Cleveland.

Two years later, after the Cavaliers fell short in the 2018 NBA Finals, James has another opportunity to leave. This time, few would blame him if he did. Despite the King’s presence, his current team is nothing special, and they certainly can’t contend with the Golden State juggernaut. The Cavaliers played abysmally for most of the postseason stage this June, and even struggled to win the Eastern Conference. Most of all, they sorely miss the secondary creator they traded away in Kyrie Irving.

James has his pick from the several suitors if he chooses to change teams: In year one of a self-imposed two-year deadline to bring more talent to the team, Lakers great Magic Johnson is ready to pitch James on the bright lights of Los Angeles. Joel Embiid wants LeBron to trust the process and join him and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia. However, James has become a fixture for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it would not feel quite right if he wore a different uniform next season

Superteams assembled in free agency lack the critical formative years that allow fans to emotionally attach themselves to a team. It is truly special to watch a team come together from the ground up. So, James’ story loses its sheen of perfection if he leaves Ohio. The 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks are an example of a good team that overcame the obstacles to become great. Between an MVP performance from Dirk Nowitzki and a stifling defence that contained James, there was a sense that this title was truly earned. The Warriors were a similarly fun team, whose talent was developed from within. However, many basketball fans feel that their rise to the summit was soiled by the free-agency arrival of Kevin Durant.

The best example of major free-agency acquisitions making a championship run less enjoyable was James’ move to the Heat. Those Miami teams, which were assembled primarily in free agency and starred James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, were terrific. But, since that roster core’s success came so instantaneously, their eventual two championships left many fans unsatisfied.

If LeBron wants to create a new superteam, it should be at home. He can enjoy the best of both narratives this way: An excellent team and a storybook ending in Cleveland.

For years, Eastern Conference franchises have dreamt of the stories they can write if James leaves the conference. But LeBron himself should be dreaming of ruining those stories. He should be dreaming of another successful year in Cleveland, since no sports story will ever be as perfect as LeBron’s narrative if it were to end gracefully at home.

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