Last night the Philadelphia 76ers travelled to Cleveland to play the Cavaliers. But the real story was not the game, it was the growing rumor that Cavs superstar LeBron James, widely believed to be leaving Cleveland at the end of the season, is considering playing for the Sixers. While the Sixers had always been vaguely thought to be on James’ shortlist of teams for next season, it was a few Philly sports fans who set the new fire under the idea.
The owner and some employees of Power Home Remodeling, in Chester, Pennsylvania, were having dinner (and probably some drinks) recently and talking about the prospects for the Sixers. Of course, acquiring James, the best player in the world, was their dream scenario. But how could they help to make it happen? They had all recently seen the movie ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and it gave them an idea.
The next day they rented three billboards on I-480 in Ohio near the Cavs arena, blasting the message that Philly wants LeBron. James seems charmed. He said the gesture was “dope.” Though he denied rumors that he had visited Philly over the All Star break, LeBron sightings in the City of Brotherly Love were reported. Furthermore, several people have reported that either James or representatives for him have been checking out private schools in the Philadelphia area.
In the next few days, LeBron to Philly talk intensified, and as it turns out, it makes an awful lot of sense. Here are five reasons LeBron James will be wearing a Sixers jersey next season.
1. It’s Not A Punk Move
The other teams talked about in the James sweepstakes — Golden State, Houston, and San Antonio — are all perennial powers. Of course, he will get more rings if he adds his services to teams who are already dominant. It will be viewed much like Kevin Durant’s move to Golden State: as a front-runner play with no heart or soul.
Who cares if James goes to a stacked, veteran team and helps them win 72 games and a championship? It will be looked upon as a cynical decision further dividing the NBA into the haves and have-nots. James already did that once — the last time he left Cleveland to head to the Dwayne Wade-Chris Bosch powerful Miami Heat. This time, he needs to do better.
2. The Blue-Collar Culture
In Philadelphia James will find a fan base that rewards his tough as nails, defense-heavy style of play. Philly fans are the most critical fans in the country, but also the quickest to reward gritty play. That’s LeBron’s’ wheelhouse. There is probably no set of fans more ready and willing to appreciate what he really does, night in and night out, than those in Philly.
3. The Reaction To The Eagles
When the Eagles won the Super Bowl a few weeks ago, the city of Philadelphia went almost literally crazy. Every town celebrates championships, but no others do so with greased-pole-climbing, police-horse-punching, dune-buggy-up-the-art-museum-steps, futon-setting-on-fire revelry. That’s unique to Philly. And James can get a sense of what the first Sixers’ championship since 1983 would mean to the Philly fans.
King James is the redeemer: he brought glory to Miami and Cleveland where none had existed. To do so for the beleaguered Philly hoops fan base would be a miracle of miracles. There is no place else, except for maybe the Knicks, where pulling it off would resound so profoundly. But the Knicks are doomed and cursed, so what’s the point.
4. No Drama
It’s no secret that LeBron doesn’t always play well with others. His contemporaries often wind up resenting the power he brings to organizations. Dwayne Wade, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Isaiah Thomas all have run afoul of James and found it trying. But the Sixers, while stacked with young talent, do not have any James contemporaries. He would clearly be the elder, almost a player coach.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are superstars in the making who grew up watching James, and are unlikely to throw shade when he tries to run the show. What better situation could there be for King James than a young, rag-tag athletic group who look to him for guidance, leadership, and wins?
5. His Legacy
James wants to be considered the best who ever played. We all know Michael Jordan holds that title, and it seems the crown is solidly on his head. Jordan won six NBA titles and never lost in a final. James only has three finals wins and has lost five times. That’s a big mountain to climb. But were he to win three titles with the Sixers, to match Jordan’s total, he would have done so with three teams of varying talent levels.
Jordan had hall of famer Scottie Pippen and super coach Phil Jackson on all of his championship teams. He was the leader of a dynasty. If James wins with the Sixers, he would be his own dynasty. That’s something he can’t achieve with teams already in the mix. And it is the only thing that could allow him to be spoken of in the same breath with Jordan.
James faces a choice that will define his career and his place in the NBA pantheon. One road leads to a sure thing, a powerhouse where he becomes a cog in an obnoxious, all-crushing wheel and loses his identity to it. The other leads to Philadelphia, where he can, Foles-like, lead a city to an underdog win and stake his claim as the greatest player ever in his sport. He won’t choose the lesser path. LeBron James will become a Sixer.
Last night, the Sixers beat the Cavs, 108 – 97.