LeBron James is on the move once again.
Bringing an end to months (and for some fans, years) of speculation, James announced through his agent on Sunday that he is ending his second stint as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Los Angeles Lakers for the upcoming NBA season.
“LeBron James, four time NBA MVP, three time NBA finals MVP, fourteen time NBA All Star, and two time Olympic gold medalist has agreed to a four year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers,” reads a press release tweeted by Klutch Sports Group, James’ agency, on Sunday.
It was widely thought that James, who turns 34 in December, would leave Cleveland for a team on the verge of championship contention, or a franchise with the flexibility to create one. Doing so would not only give the athlete a chance at a ninth NBA finals appearance but would likely lead him to another match-up against back-to-back NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
(The warriors have faced James four consecutive times for the Larry O’Brien trophy, winning three of the match-ups.)
But James’ decision wasn’t cut-and-dry from the start, as several teams — barring some trades or free agency signings — were in solid position to sign the star, including the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and the Cavaliers.
Since the 2018 NBA Finals ended in an embarrassing sweep of the Cavaliers by the Warriors, James has said that his next move would come down to what he felt was best for his children — Bryce Maximus James, 10, LeBron James Jr., 13, and Zhuri James, 3 — and his wife, Savannah Brinson.
Although James has kept mum about any preferences, that hasn’t stopped NBA analysts and fans from speculating where he’d end up. Discussions about which team is the favorite to land the superstar have changed from week to week.
Initially, many believed that James would switch conferences from the East to the West to sign with the Rockets, joining all-stars Chris Paul and James Harden. The Rockets held a 3-2 series lead over the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before Paul suffered a hamstring injury, which allowed the Warriors to take the series in seven games.
The Sixers also seemed to be a good fit, as James would likely be able to reach the finals once again with young stars like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
But the tide appeared to turn in the Lakers’ favor in early June when NBA legend Gary Payton said in an interview that LeBron James Jr. had signed up to attend an LA-area school for eighth grade.
Then, Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs allegedly demanded a trade, saying he preferred to be sent to the Lakers for the upcoming season, according to ESPN. This fueled rumors that James, Leonard, and free agent Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder were planning to create a super team in Los Angeles to rival the Warriors. George signed a contract with Oklahoma City as soon as free agency began.
Because Leonard cannot opt out of his contract until next summer, he hasn’t had much say in where he’ll go. And the Spurs have been reluctant to trade their best player to another team in the Western Conference. Still, without another big-time player heading to the LA team, many were unsure whether James would pick the Lakers after all.
Now that he has made his choice known, the rest of the NBA can plan their next moves.
This isn’t the first time James has sent shockwaves through the NBA as a free agent.
In a controversial move, now known as “The Decision,” James took to ESPN for a televised interview in 2010 where he announced he was leaving Cleveland and “taking [his] talents to South Beach” to join Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
Many criticized James’ decision and denounced the dramatic announcement. Thus, the phrase “taking my talents” quickly became a meme. At the start of his first season in Miami, James expressed slight regret about how he went about breaking the news.
“If I had to go back on it, I probably would do it a little bit different”, James told the New York Times. “But I’m happy with my decision.”
He would go on to win two consecutive championships with the Heat in 2012 and 2013.
But James would surprise the basketball world once again in 2014 when he announced that he was rejoining the Cavaliers in a Sports Illustrated article titled “I’m Coming Home.” This time, the announcement was well-received by many (except Heat fans, of course).
Though James — who was born a short ways from Cleveland in Akron, Ohio — is leaving the team once again, during his four years back, he helped to give something to the city they never had before: an NBA championship.
Along with point guard Kyrie Irving, James led the Cavs to a thrilling Game 7 victory over the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. It was the first professional sports title for Cleveland in over half-a-century, and, though his time with the team is over (for now?), for the city, those memories will certainly last a lifetime.