Like a Sun or star of greater gravity, LeBron James has pulled all things toward Cleveland, where he’ll make his return on Thursday night.
Before them, LeBron drew Kevin Love — a transformational player who could have played New York or Los Angeles or any other place a year from now — to Ohio. Guys like Shawn Marion drifted there too, bypassing places that could have, if he had been interested, given him more money.
Before that LeBron halted the apparatus of NBA free agency entirely while he picked a new team. With NBA GMs too scared to let him get away and NBA players too unsure of where he’d settle, there was a league-wide pause that ended all at once when his Sports Illustrated essay went live.
His transit to Cleveland reorganized the structure of the NBA universe and all the objects within it. Cleveland went from the margins to the center. The last two No. 1 overall draft picks — the most valuable commodities in the NBA — spun off to Minnesota. Miami collapsed and reformed. The Bulls splashed an uncharacteristic amount of cash, forming a pair of twin superteams in at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Rockets were hurled downward into a new trajectory that can be traced, like all things NBA, back to LeBron.
We talk about “star” athletes as if the are only two tiers: stars and non-stars. If a given player achieves some noteworthy level of on-court success and off-court celebrity, we elevate them to the status of “star.”
What we’ve seen with LeBron shows how empty this elevation is. When it comes to star athletes, there is only LeBron. He goes somewhere and takes a league and a culture with him. He is massive in a way no one else approaches.
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