LeBron James just notified the Miami Heat that he’ll exercise an early-termination option in his contract that will allow him to become a free agent this summer. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll leave Miami, and theoretically it improves the Heat’s ability to re-add LeBron to a retooled roster. At this point no one knows what LeBron will do next. What he should do, however, is obvious.
If LeBron is really interested in making the most of his enormous talent and becoming a global icon, a hero, and a truly great man instead of just a great basketball player, what he should do is announce that he’ll return to play for the Cavaliers, but only if Dan Gilbert sells the franchise. Since the NBA owners have naturally colluded to make a rule that prohibits players from owning franchises, LeBron himself can’t be the new owner, at least not yet. So he’ll have to demand that Gilbert sell the team at a fair market price to one of his good friends, or a conglomerate of his good friends, whom LeBron can trust to sell him the franchise once his playing days are over. Warren Buffet’s son Peter would be a great choice to head up this new interim ownership group, to name just one. A consortium led by Larry Hughes, Wally Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace and Shaq would work, too.
In any event, Gilbert, of course, would have no choice but to acquiesce to LeBron’s demand. It’s bad enough that Gilbert has turned the Cavaliers into the NBA’s zombie graveyard in such a short time. It would be completely unsustainable for him to be so culpable in preventing LeBron’s return to Cleveland, especially if he continues to flail about as the league’s worst owner, as he inevitably would. If Gilbert really wants what’s best for Cleveland, he’ll cash Team LeBron’s billion-dollar-plus check and vacate.
The worst-case scenario here is that Gilbert holds out against all notions of decency and sanity. In this case, LeBron would have to either work out a deal with another NBA franchise (he’d surely have some options) or else start a player-owned league. Even still, this scenario would expose the unsustainability of a system where men are as free as Gilbert is to interpose themselves between the public and nature’s resources (like LeBron’s athletic talent) to skim off billions of dollars while representing “nothing more than a tax levied on [the rest of humanity].” Even just the demand by LeBron would represent as bold of a strike for basic equality as there’s been in decades, and a giant leap toward a just and sustainable global order.
Best case scenario, of course, is that Gilbert sells to Team LeBron and we get the just and sustainable global order PLUS a Cleveland championship. LeBron, finally, will have earned his title as “The King.”
If James doesn’t at least give this plan a shot, even his most ardent supporters will have to start rethinking their fanhood.