The Los Angeles Lakers, as of last night, have reason to be excited about their future. Reaching a reported four-year deal with LeBron James — the news of which broke via Twitter by James’ management agency — will do that for a franchise.
Unlike his two previous forays in free agency, James did not drag out his decision and made the announcement less than 24 hours after NBA free agency opened. But how exactly did the Lakers go from contender for James’ services to agreeing to a deal with him?
Jeanie Buss hired Magic Johnson to return the shine to the franchise her father left in her care. Late last night he looked LeBron James in the eye, and this is what happened. https://t.co/G6FsL3vYsx
— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) July 2, 2018
The Los Angeles Times‘ Tania Ganguli and Broderick Turner report on how a Saturday meeting between James and Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson helped James make his reported choice:
Under cover of darkness and all by himself, Magic Johnson arrived at LeBron James’ Brentwood house at 9:01 p.m. on Saturday.
He knew — he just knew — that if he could look James in the eye and talk to him, they’d connect. They had too much in common for that not to happen.
They talked about basketball and what the Lakers’ future could be, according to sources not authorized to speak publicly.
On Saturday morning, James flew into Los Angeles from Anguilla, where he and his family vacationed last week. He spent the day at home. Minutes before Johnson arrived at his house, Paul George, another free-agent star the Lakers were targeting to return to his Southern California roots, shunned the Lakers. On a stage in Oklahoma City he announced he would return to the Thunder. He agreed to a four-year deal worth $137 million without even taking a meeting with the Lakers, the franchise with whom he’d publicly flirted for a year and a half.
On Saturday night, James’ agent, Rich Paul, had conversations with the Cavaliers. He reportedly met with the Philadelphia 76ers in Los Angeles, too.
But after 15 years in the NBA, James didn’t need much convincing nor elaborate proposals. He knew how much he loved living in Los Angeles, how his family enjoyed summers in Brentwood. He knew what the Lakers once meant to the NBA. He believed enough in this team’s future, its leadership and his own recruiting abilities to sign a four-year deal.
That conversation between Johnson and James were key in this decision James made. But so, too, were ones James had with those close to him, reports Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated.
What started with a root canal ended as he boarded a private plane to Europe. The story of LeBron to the Lakers, with a phone call to Kobe, a house call from Magic and a chance meeting with the presumptive governor (via @SINow): https://t.co/YqzGoDZYYp
— Lee Jenkins (@ByLeeJenkins) July 2, 2018
Three days after James’ Cleveland Cavaliers faltered in the 2018 Finals, he had a root canal done and was recovering at home in Ohio.
While his wife and children were out of town for an AAU tournament, James was at his Ohio mansion pondering his next career move and how to top the champion Golden State Warriors, Jenkins writes. From there, James made a thorough-yet-quick decision in free agency, writes Jenkins:
In the two weeks following the Finals, James held three meetings at home with his closest advisors, in which they attempted to peg free-agent destinations where he might be able to satisfy his family and eventually vault his nemesis. Their talks focused on the Rockets, 76ers, Lakers and Cavaliers. James instructed his agent, Rich Paul, to research those organizations and present him with feedback when he returned from a vacation in Anguilla.
James has slow-pedaled his last two free-agent decisions, but from the moment his private plane landed at Van Nuys Airport in L.A. on Saturday, he was proceeding with unusual urgency. He met with Paul extensively Saturday and planned communication with the Cavs, Sixers and Lakers. But he was clearly focused on the new home team. He talked with Kobe Bryant over the phone and invited Magic Johnson to his house in Brentwood. Late Saturday night, Johnson walked through the door.
Johnson, already jilted by George, didn’t have either in hand. James explained that he was in no rush, even at 33, and did not have a problem being the first headliner through the door. …
On Sunday afternoon, James and his wife went back to Van Nuys Airport. They were flying east again, this time to Europe, for a couple’s trip. His advisors didn’t know if he’d pick a team before he left for Europe or after he landed, or even after he returned. They prepared an old-fashioned press release under the letterhead of Paul’s agency, Klutch Sports Group, but they weren’t sure if or when they’d distribute it. James phoned Paul as he was boarding the private plane. “Call the Lakers,” he said.
By Sunday night, James was in Europe, leaving the party behind. Expect no interviews, no videos, no elaborate explanations for at least a month. … He is no closer to the Warriors than he was three weeks ago, except geographically. He embarks on a new road north, following the footsteps of legends.
All told, James is saying goodbye to the Cavs for the second time in his career. They drafted the teenage sensation from Akron in 2003 and have to be satisfied with winning just one title in the 11 years they had him.
James isn’t planning any more comments and there won’t be a welcoming press conference or celebration in Los Angeles, a person familiar with his plans told The Associated Press on Sunday night on the condition of anonymity. James will make his next public comments on July 30 in Akron when he opens a public school started by his family foundation.
The game’s biggest star will now lead a young Lakers team – run by Johnson, a Hall of Famer and Lakers legend – that has been overmatched in recent years while rebuilding. But the Lakers will instantly rise with James, a three-time champion who after being swept by the Warriors in this year’s NBA Finals said he is still driven and very much in ”championship mode.”
James and Bryant were Olympic teammates and there has been a perceived rivalry between the pair of alpha males. They’re now linked like never before and if James wants to prepare for his eventual life after basketball, who better to learn from than Johnson, who has made a fortune as a business entrepreneur, or Bryant, an Academy Award winner.
The massive Los Angeles market will also provide James with a grander platform for his philanthropy and social activism. He already owns two homes in Southern California and has a film production company.
This is the third time in eight years James has changed teams. After bolting from Cleveland in 2010, he returned in an emotional homecoming four years later, determined to make the Cavs champions. The 33-year-old had previously said he wanted to finish his career in Ohio, and although he’s leaving again, Cavs fans are more forgiving after he ended the city’s 52-year sport title drought in 2016.
Shortly after the announcement, James posted a three-photo tribute to Cleveland fans on his Instagram account.
”Thank you Northeast Ohio for an incredible four seasons,” James wrote. ”This will always be home.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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