King James, the hometown hero out of Akron, Ohio, just left the city he’s always called home. Now, he’s going to be wearing the notorious Laker purple & gold; not only to play for a historic franchise, but he will now be compared to LA legends Kobe, Shaq, Kareem and countless others.
C’mon, it has to feel kind of weird that Cleveland’s greatest athlete of all time — outside of Jim Brown and Josh Gordon — is going to be playing FOR THE FREAKING LAKERS.
For those of you ready to bash LeBron James, the greatest athlete of our generation, don’t. While I chose LeBron as the most recent case to pick on, there are countless other NBA players who forced their way out of the team they were drafted by in recent years: Paul George in Indiana, Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, Gordon Hayward in Utah, Kevin Durant in OKC.
NBA management also seems to be adapting to the trend, as the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas last year after an MVP-caliber season, and the Bulls traded franchise cornerstone Jimmy Butler. All of these moves were made in an effort to create the next superteam that can dethrone the Warriors. Speaking of, the Warriors just signed one of the best centers in the game, Boogie Cousins, who settled for just a $5.3 million one year deal.
The craziness of NBA free agency for the past decade has much larger implications on the entire state of basketball and its culture. Because of the LeBron signing, the Lakers, Rockets and Warriors are gonna wreak havoc in the West, while the East will likely be spearheaded by the Celtics or Sixers. However, after the Boogie signing, there should be no doubt that the Warriors are winning it all next year. That leaves 29 other teams scrambling to find enough superstars to compete. An NBA that’s uncompetitive is no fun for its loyal fans.
Players switching teams more often also threatens the connections each city builds with their superstars. Each fan is attached to their favorite team’s best player because of all the crazy moments they produce. For example, in his eight year career, John Wall has single-handedly brought attention back to basketball in the nation’s capital. He has produced clutch moments, given D.C. a lot more attention in the basketball sphere, and, most importantly, he’s been an active and giving member to the D.C. community. Can you imagine if he were to leave the Wizards today? They would go back to their Andray Blatche-Nick Young days, where their they were known more for their unorthodox locker room antics and western-style pistol duels.
Without LeBron, the Cleveland Cavaliers are gonna be bad—no, like really bad—and I have no idea how they are going to maintain any sort of fan base. The NBA faces serious issues down the road if superstars continue to leave the team they were drafted by in order to team up and win with other superstars. It sends the wrong message to viewers and young basketball players: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
While many of the NBA’s current superstars have set the standard for leaving their original teams, the future generation of basketball stars offers much more promise: Donovan Mitchell went off his rookie year to lead the Jazz to the playoffs; Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic are freak international athletes who have stayed loyal to their smaller market teams; Victor Oladipo worked hard for his success and has finally found a home in Indiana. The future generation of players has the potential to reverse the faithless standard that exists in the NBA today; or, they can fall victim to that standard by forming superteams and taking the easy path towards championships.
As a competitor, it’s gut-wrenching seeing the NBA trend in the direction of teaming up to form superteams. The LeBron move to LA and Boogie going to the Warriors threatens the nature and spirit of equal competition in the NBA. If the NBA is to keep all of its viewers engaged, they must end the era of the superteam. If it doesn’t stop, fans will continue to be heartbroken by their superstars leaving their favorite teams, and annoyed with the imbalance of assets in the NBA.