Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that LeBron James wields more decision-making power over the Cleveland Cavaliers than perhaps any player has with their franchise in NBA history. He’s the ultimate star in a league that knows how important stars are, and his unique journey away from and back to title-starved Cleveland combined with a lack of other dominant personalities in the organization gives him an unprecedented amount of leverage – and he hasn’t been shy to wield it.
ESPN, with the help of preeminent LeBron reporters Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin, has put together a brief-but-beautiful illustration of all the times James has exerted his will over the direction of the Cavs. It begins with his decision to sign in Cleveland, continues with his recruitment of Kevin Love, and culminates in his poolside cabana meeting with the big man just before this summer’s free agency, which led to Love inking a five-year deal that will keep him with the Cavaliers long-term.
The best example of LeBron’s dominance over the franchise, however, is this passage about the Cavs’ fateful trade for Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.
While LeBron is out [with his two-week back injury], [Cavs GM David] Griffin approaches James at the practice facility. The Cavs are sinking, in the midst of losing seven of eight games; the team badly needs help on the wing, and Griffin has learned he can get Iman Shumpert from the Knicks for a song-but the price of the deal is to also take J.R. Smith. Griffin wants Shumpert badly, but he’s concerned about the enigmatic Smith. When he asks James what he thinks, James says that he’s actually more interested in getting Smith than Shumpert. To ease Griffin’s worries, LeBron ends the conversation by saying: “Get J.R. here and I’ll take care of it.”
It’s an arresting tidbit, not because LeBron had the confidence to get Smith in line, but because Griffin made a major roster-building move with the strong, helping hand of a player.
One of the reasons LeBron was able to create this unique position for himself in Cleveland, which doesn’t have a more senior powerful voice like the Heat did with Pat Riley, was because of his bond with Ohio, who knows exactly how dark it can get without him there. If he wants to play there, the Cavaliers know they have to do whatever it takes to keep him happy. And when a player is so singularly capable of taking a team to the highest heights, that’s exactly how it should be.