LeBron James’ massive Lakers expansion is all about winning, not just about winning games

In extending his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James has likely committed to a level of short-term professional mediocrity that would seem counterintuitive to an all-time superstar aspiring to surpass Michael Jordan as the game’s greatest player.

Championships, as we know, are the coin of the realm for the few basketball royalties like King James who are good enough to compete for the moniker Greatest of All Time. And LA, we also know, is looking to give their newly-extended superstar a shot at another ring this year, or in the one or two more years in which he’ll continue as a Laker.

But the extension — which locks LeBron in Los Angeles for at least one additional year through the 2023-24 season, and includes a third-year player option for 2024-25, a source confirmed to CBS Sports — fits perfectly with the attractive space. LeBron has reached his career: a brilliant basking in both the quality of life and the personal benefits that come with living in Los Angeles, and a sly tactical nod to his career-long goal of besting Jordan. public eye.

The strategy behind this new deal is equal parts commercial and long-term branding, and both point to a subtler, older version of James. He’s traded “not two, not three, not four” for future quality NBA time with his son, and now needs to collect rings in the GOAT chase for something more interesting and nuanced.

Let’s start with the personal.

People inside the Lakers organization never doubted this would happen, pointing to the fact that LeBron loves his life in Los Angeles. He is happy there. He is satisfied. And while, yes, Russell Westbrook is a totem of the problems plaguing the basketball side of things, there is a life outside of work, something new and fascinating in one of the most driven and ambitious players in NBA history.

It is true for me that there is life outside of work. The truth for you. True for the richest and poorest among us and the least and least driven. The deal – the player’s option is key here – allows LeBron James to opt out of the Lakers in the summer of 2024 if, as expected, his eldest son Brony James enters the NBA draft.

That, too, is the quality-of-life factor that’s more about happiness than competitiveness, and the long-stated LeBron goal that sheds light on his priorities—the joy of winning, at its most obvious but true.

LeBron loves LA. He likes life there. He wants to play league with his son. And this deal gives him all of that and, no, Lakers fans — in any case — this extension indicates LeBron’s belief that the Lakers can or will win a championship in the next two or three years. They almost certainly don’t. They are not well built or in good condition. And that’s unlikely to change.

Which brings us to the second point, and the reminder that human beings are complex, and that two things can be true at once. In this case, that LeBron is prioritizing his quality of life and family over his career, and his lifelong obsession with convincing the world that he’s the GOAT while still in LA has long-term strategic benefits.

GOAT debates are fun, and interesting, and worth our time, even if former athletes pretend to hate such talk. (Personally, at least, they love it as much as the rest of us.) But contrary to how these debates rage, there are no certainties before deciding Jordan > LeBron, or LeBron > Jordan. , or Steph > LeBron, or Kareem > all of them.

Deciding the NBA’s greatest player of all time is more art than science. This is philosophy, not vote counting. It’s more alchemy than some fixed thing checklist.

LeBron knows this. He knows he has to be historically significant, and he’s on his way to checking off the last few boxes. He knows he needs to win more championships, and yes, Jordan fans, four is enough. But he recognizes that there are pop culture factors (“Be Like Mike” certainly didn’t hurt Jordan) and other accomplishments along the way that could change public opinion.

You have to win games and rings, sure, but you also have to win hearts and minds.

And for LeBron, who is just 1,326 points away from passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, that record is a major way to do that. LeBron should pass on Kareem next season, but this extension ensures that neither injury nor an off-year will prevent him from doing so as a Laker.

Learn about it. Setting that mark as a Los Angeles Laker has more staying power — brand impact, a wow factor, a long-term Q-rating enhancer, than doing it anywhere else — say what you will. The purple and gold is iconic, and LeBron has ensured that he will make history in the colors most likely to increase the power and impact of the point number. 38,388.

Consider how many lockers were among the sport’s all-time greats. These superstars were larger than life, and their names rolled off the tongue more like myths than men: Kareem. the magic Kobe. vegetables. the logo. LeBron fits into the pantheon of such players.

The focus for LeBron right now is being the all-time leading scorer, because that record is at least as important in the long run as, say, going to Cleveland for a third time and maybe — big-time — winning a fifth championship.

Two rings are out of reach. Karim has no record. So can do as a Laker.

If this seems far-fetched and half-baked, I can tell you how close it is to LeBron. He is now as much a corporation as an athlete, and the story and legacy of his brand is a matter of passion for those charged with preserving it.

So this Lakers contract isn’t about winning, well, at least not games. It’s about — as unlikely as it may sound — the start of an extended LeBron James farewell tour.

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