As a mere 25-year-old, LeBron hasn't yet endured Garnett-ian levels of toil. Changing cities would be a public concession that he couldn't make it happen in Cleveland. Joining Wade and Bosh would be even worse, a tacit admission that he doubts he can make it anywhere. Maybe it's telling that LeBron is a big Yankees fan: The best comparison here is Alex Rodriguez, a guy who gave up trying to be the world's best player and settled on being a member of the world's best roster. After moving to New York, A-Rod finally won his elusive World Series. Everybody still hates him.
LeBron's place in the NBA food chain is already a bit perilous: After this year's NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant was universally reanointed as the game's greatest player. Kobe sits astride the league, because he is basketball's biggest egomaniac. In 2004, Bryant presided over the destruction of the thrice-champion Los Angeles Lakers, transforming a franchise built around himself and Shaquille O'Neal into a one-man show. Having just secured his fifth title—and his second since L.A. traded its stalwart center—Kobe has met his goal: winning "one more [championship] than Shaq."
Of course, the Lakers aren't truly a one-man show—Kobe's team started its current run of titles after expropriating Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. LeBron James' legacy, then, will rest on the perception among fans that he's won titles on his own, no matter who his teammates happen to be. A large part of Michael Jordan's legend stems from the fact that he won six titles with Scottie Pippen and a bunch of role players. Magic Johnson, by contrast, is probably underrated because he won all of his titles with loaded Lakers teams.
That's why James' best option is the middle way, something between title-less, sidekick-free isolationism and FDR-esque court packing. Jumping to Chicago or New York is a relatively palatable option—a chance to escape the Bad News Cavs and start over with a better supporting cast. If James and Wade and Bosh decide to build their own insta-champion, they will take home the emptiest titles in NBA history. As they might soon learn, winning a championship is not the same thing as earning one.
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