For a Lakers franchise that has had a galaxy of stars throughout its illustrious history including the likes of Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, James Worthy, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich and many others, it has never had a revolutionary figure such as LeBron James.
James began what was destined from the jump to be a glorious and record breaking career in Northeast Ohio in Cleveland just a short drive from where he was born and raised in Akron.
That was 17 years ago with a world of expectations heaped upon him after skipping college for the NBA and becoming the No. 1 over all pick by the hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
Most felt that he would spend his entire career with Cleveland, a city with the nation’s highest poverty rate, one that was title starved for a half century in a region segregated by white and black, equally divided by culture, class and community.
He raised Cleveland from the dead, igniting a downtown economic stream that had the locales giddy and optimistic.
There was good reason to be hopeful, James led the Cavs to the brink of an NBA title before succumbing to the Orlando Magic in 2009 in six games. He would be named Defensive Player of the Year and MVP for the first of four times.
All that awaited was an encore. But it never came.
The Decision, James much anticipated free agent announcement that would alter the landscape of the NBA forever.
Nationally televised by ESPN in 2010, The Decision went over like a led balloon, crushing the hearts and souls of his devoted fans in Cleveland that he had in many ways united.
His number 23 jerseys burned, instead of elevating his charming and authentic life story, he was now cast as a selfish villain.
“I’m gonna take my talents to South Beach.”
Four years and two Miami Heat title later, James would return home to Cleveland, penning a heartfelt letter in Sports Illustrated declaring that he wants to bring an NBA title to his hometown Cavs.
Heat boss and former world champions Lakers coach Pat Riley tried to sway James to stay, encouraging him to “get a grip” before James went back home.
Three years later, James had led the Cavs to one of the most improbable comebacks in sports history, down 3-1 to a Warriors team that had just won an NBA record 72 games, James and Kyrie Irving brought the Cavs back and they won it in 7 grueling games.
As he clutched the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy, cried and channeled all of the emotions of his enduring journey from a fatherless child to a young mother, poverty, the weight of others expectations, the draught, LeBron James was drained.
A year later the same Cavaliers team was swept into no mans land by the Warriors which won their third title in four years.
All that was left for James was to chart the next and perhaps final chapter of a career decorated with monumental basketball and business achievements, and a swelling social justice activism.
Where would he raise his three children, expand his global empire that expands to entertainment, movies and political influence.
Regardless of what Cleveland and Northeast Ohio meant to him, it could not happen there.
It would have to be a city that would embrace his social activism agenda, his movie and media empire and suit the needs of his prodigy son Bronny, Bryce and daughter Zhuri.
Los Angeles here he comes. As much as people want to believe that the Lakers recruited James, he actually recruited them.
He wanted the greatest challenge on one of the greatest franchises.
The Lakers had not even been a playoff participant before he arrived. They had not played for a title in 10 years.
LeBron embraced Kobe Bryant and then passed him 33,643 career points.
He honored the occasion revering Kobe on his sneakers, and then returns home to the tragic death of the face of the Lakers franchise.
While Laker fans cult like following of Kobe have prevented them from fully accepting LeBron, it did not matter.
He kept his focus on the ultimate goal that of winning an NBA title.
He is here now, against an old foe that wanted to desperately keep him, but vows to beat him.
As Elton John would sang, it’s the circle of life.
LeBron James has come to that circle.