Where Will LeBron Go: It’s Showtime in LA

At the end of a meaningless home game in mid-December, LeBron James had an unexpected Laker moment.

As the buzzer sounded off to officially lock in another Lakers loss, LeBron said what’s up to The Future. He hollered at Julius Randle at half court. He slapped hands with Kyle Kuzma, then walked crosscourt to dap up Brandon Ingram.

LeBron hung back and appeared to be in no rush to head to the showers. Like a creepy guy navigating a crowded dance floor at 2 a.m., he paced back and forth on the court. It seemed like a lame attempt at the classic I’m-looking-for-someone-but-playing-it-cool-so-that-person-doesn’t-think-I’m-looking-for-him move.

The person that LeBron was looking for, it turned out, was Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball.

Ball, who grew up idolizing LeBron, was similarly being coy. The 20-year-old was no doubt eager for a LeBron James shoutout, but he tried his best not to hound his hero like a desperate fanboy.

After both teams were done with the hugathon, the sea parted and LeBron and Lonzo saw an opening. They had a talk. With several cameras and mics coming alive courtside for the rare exchange, LeBron covered his mouth with the neckline of his jersey like some sort of superstar protocol. Ball—who appeared clueless as to what’s happening—immediately mimicked LeBron and covered his own mouth with his jersey, before letting it go, perhaps realizing that covering your mouth to listen is a stupid thing to do.

So for more than 10 odd seconds, LeBron, without even making eye contact with Ball, fired away like a rapper freestyling:

“Find your zone and just stay fucking locked in. The media is going to ask you what I told you right now. Tell them nothing. You’re competing against the best. You’re going to get better every single day…It’s white noise. That’s all it is. Alright? Let’s go.”

They shook hands, LeBron tapped Lonzo on the chest, and that was it. Moment over. It was nothing, really. But with all the chatter about “LABron,” it might have been everything; the Exhibit A of People vs LeBron to Lakers Confirmed.

Their little chit-chat happened in December 2017, around the same time when the LeBron-to-LA rumor slash basketball fantasy brewed. The rumor got legs with the news of LeBron’s purchase of a $23 million house in a posh LA neighborhood. California dreaming was also supported by the fact that LeBron’s co-founded production company SpringHill Entertainment is based in LA. (Side note: If you check the About section of SpringHill’s website, it says, in Helvetica, size 27: Akron to Los Angeles.)

Fast forward to a few days before Decision Part 3 and there’s more fodder for rumormongers, such as a couple of interesting, probably drunk tweets, from a LeBron homie. He hinted at a Lakers championship (he tagged Kuzma and Kuzma liked it: Exhibit B of LeBron to Lakers Confirmed!); predicted an unnamed jersey to be “the highest selling NBA jersey of all-time”; and prepared for “staying up late for West Coast NBA games.” The tweets were nothing, really. But this is the same guy who posted a LeBron Cavs jersey the day before the Coming Home announcement in 2015, so it might just be everything.

After LeBron’s expected ditching of his $35.6 million option in Cleveland, this is what we’re working with so far: an unrestricted free agent who not-so discreetly flirted with Lonzo Ball, cryptic Laker tweets from a not-so random friend, and a growing multimillion-dollar empire in Hollywood. There are more, but these are enough signs that point to LA as the best possible destination for LeBron James the Brand.

His story, no matter how warm it feels, was never about the hometown hero staying in Akron. It’s about bringing pride to Akron and then conquerinng a bigger space. It’s about (how many times do we have to say this?) being bigger than basketball.

LA, and only LA, is the perfect stage for Hollywood LeBron. His Trainwreck bit was just a sample—Space Jam 2 starring LeBron James coming soon. It also gives him a bigger platform so he can do the opposite of shut up and dribble.

On the basketball front, does it work? Based on the advanced analytics of adding the overall per game contributions of George Hill, Rodney Hood, JR Smith, Jeff Green, Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson, and Cedi Osman, then dividing that figure by LeBron’s MVP numbers, the answer is an absolute Fuck Yes. If the last NBA Playoffs taught us anything, it’s that LeBron could make anything work, and also that JR Smith likes to play high.

LeBron plus another superstar free agent who may or may not be Paul George (it’s Paul George) plus a young energetic team coached by Luke plus the cool dealings of Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson equals a fun time. Quick question: If Magic pulls this off and the Lakers win a title, does this make him the undisputed Greatest Laker of All Time?

Picture this: LeBron grabs a rebound, hands the ball over to Lonzo. Lonzo brings the ball down and feeds it to LeBron at the post. Randle sets a pindown screen to open up Ingram. LeBron throws a no-look, one-handed bullet pass—ala Magic!—to Ingram for a wide open jumper. LeBron high-fives Jack Nicholson as he sprints back on his defense.

Or how about this: Instead of Ingram at the receiving end of a LeBron assist, it’s LA native Paul George.

Or how about this: Instead of Randle setting the screen, it’s Kawhi Leonard making space for Paul George. The LeBron throws a no-look, one-handed bullet pass—ala Magic!—to PG for a wide open jumper.

Or how about this: After escaping an epic seven-game series against the Warriors, the Big 3 Lakers of LeBron, PG, and Kawhi advance to the NBA Finals to face the Boston Celtics. Lakers vs Celtics rivalry renewed. LeBron and Kyrie meet again.

LeBron is all about the storyline, and everything means something, whether it’s a vague Arthur meme or a Lonzo Ball moment in December. Staying in Cleveland is an OK narrative (The King Stays: Witness Loyalty), but driving off to the California sunset to become the new star of the most storied NBA franchise in the most glamorous city? LeBron needs that. Lakers fans need that. Lakers haters, joining forces with LeBron haters, need that.

Taking his talents to South Beach sounded arrogant. The Coming Home promise has been fulfilled. At 33 years old and nothing else to prove on the court, there’s only one more plot twist left for LeBron James to unveil: Showtime.

Photos from Getty Images

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