Justin Lovell, Sports Editor
“What If” is a new segment to the sports section that allows writers and readers alike to imagine an alternate sports world. Each week a writer will write about a topic from actual history that could have been very different including how and why it could have been like that. Each and every sport will be covered as we take an in-depth look at what could have been in the sports world. Note to the readers: Since these articles are purely opinion, based on what could have happened according to the writer of each article, stats and other information will be different from actual fact. These are also just the opinions of the listed writer, not the entire State Times sports section.
NBA fans know how important the summer of 2010 was for the sport. It was the biggest free agency class ever, in terms of superstars being available. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer were all free-agent superstars during the summer and all highly sought after. Nowitzki never had serious feelings about leaving Dallas and didn’t, which turned out to be the correct decision as he and his Mavericks won the title in 2011. Johnson resigned with the Hawks because they offered him a shitload of money that only a fool would turn down. The Knicks significantly overpaid for Stoudemire, as did the Bulls for Boozer. That left the big three. Wade resigned with the Heat after flirting with his hometown Bulls and receiving news that Bosh wanted to play with the Heat. That left the King to make his decision. He could either stay in his hometown of Cleveland with the Cavaliers and stick out the tough times he had been enduring there, or bolt to South Beach and form a super team with his best friends. Well, two finals appearances, one MVP and most importantly one championship later, James’ decision looks like the smart choice. But was it the right one? Thanks to the help of “What If” we can find out.
The question “did LeBron James make the right decision by signing with the Heat” isn’t a simple yes or no answer. If you choose to break it down that simply, the answer is either yes or no depending on who is answering the question. Heat fans certainly think it is a yes but Cavs fans will always say it is a no. Whether it was the right decision or not isn’t what is important; what is important is to look at what could have been had James decided to call Cleveland home again after the summer of 2010. In this scenario, all of the offseason moves that happened are the same still, minus James.
As a result, the 2011 season is drastically different. James puts immense pressure on himself as he states his love for the city of Cleveland and stays, but knows an NBA title wont happen just because he wants it to. James, working harder than ever, drastically improves during the offseason. In addition to his physical skills, his shooting becomes Jordanesque. As the season kicks off, in the East it is a five team race for the title: the Cavs with James, the defending East champion Celtics, the Magic with Dwight “Superman” Howard, the Heat with the Dynamic Duo of Wade and Bosh and the up and coming Bulls with Derrick Rose. In the West, the Lakers still reign supreme. The Spurs, Mavericks and Thunder all show flashes of greatness but the Lakers make it to a fourth straight NBA finals. In the East, the Magic, Celtics and Bulls all fall short, setting up the most anticipated Eastern Conference Finals ever between LeBron’s Cavs and his would be suitors, the Heat. The series, much to the dismay of the NBA (as they hoped it would be tremendous) doesn’t live up to its billing. The Heat with only an injury-prone Wade and soft inside with Bosh, are no match for the total package that has become LeBron James. James and the Cavs celebrate their win in five games and advance to a second NBA finals in four years.
Unfortunately for James, the machine of the Lakers isn’t halted as the combined dominance of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum lead the Lakers to their third straight title as they win in six games. The entire 2011 offseason is dominated by media outlets talking about how James should have jumped ship to Miami last year but for James, he remains silent all offseason. The bitter taste of another finals lost eats at him and fuels him harder than ever. As the 2012 finally kicks in, the Cavs are just as dominant as they have been the past four years, but this year, James won’t be stopped. James wins his fourth-straight MVP while leading the Cavs to an NBA best 68 wins. They cruise through the Eastern Conference and again beat the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals to once again match up with the Lakers. The Lakers however, are a year older and James elevates his game to level unseen. As the final buzzer sounds in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, James and his Cavs teammates celebrate his first title, as well as the first title in a very long time for the city of Cleveland.
This route is virtually identical to his Miami route in real life, except James didn’t have the backlash for leaving his team and city and could still be crowned the best player ever. James’ decision to leave Cleveland a few years ago didn’t bother me either way, obviously the Heat were the better option but had he stayed with the Cavs I would have understood that too. The worst part for me is knowing that James is the best player ever in the history of the NBA, but because of his decision to leave, his legacy is forever tainted and people will never admit he is now. Had he stayed in Cleveland, I don’t think there would have been any arguing that fact.