You didn’t really think the LeBron chatter was over, did you? James has done nothing but dominate the offseason headlines, and rightfully so. He is the best player on the planet. His move was essential in how the rest of the free agency period is to play out. LeBron shaped the landscape of the league with his 2010 decision and he is certainly doing the same in 2014. But, has he shaped it even more than it appears on the surface? Could this free agency win for Cleveland be a win for other small markets across the league?
When thinking of why players prefer to play in big city markets, there are a few obvious reasons that come to mind. Bright lights and celebrity lifestyle being key motivators, which is something small markets will never be able to compete with. However, more so than bright lights, these markets offer a championship pedigree.
When you think of the Lakers, Celtics, or Bulls you probably have relatable images of that respective franchise burned into your mind. Most likely those images include Magic or Kobe hoisting the O’Brien Championship Trophy, Bill Russell’s hand being covered in Championship rings, or Michael Jordan crying in the locker room while clinching his first trophy. These large market teams are, more than anything else, synonymous with winning titles.
So what if LeBron James, the biggest superstar of this generation, becomes most remembered for hoisting his own trophy in a Cleveland Cavaliers’ uniform? Does that downplay the need to be in a large market in order to win on the biggest stage? Certainly the San Antonio Spurs have done their part to debunk that myth, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a top 5 player of all time put it to rest for good. For the next wave of big stars, the player they look up to and strive to be could be someone who succeeded in the smallest and least desirable (sorry, Cleveland) of markets. That is something that can probably never be said in the history of the league.
Now, I’m not saying that LeBron’s decision will allow the Denvers of the league to go out and sign the big name free agents. After all, Cleveland is basically LeBron’s home. But what it may do is allow young superstars to no longer feel the need to go play with the big boys once they’ve already settled in a place like Denver. If the Nuggets come into another Carmelo Anthony-type player in the future (this time, one who has seen superstar success on the small market through LeBron), maybe the bright lights of New York suddenly don’t have as much to offer as they once did.
Obviously there are a lot of hypotheticals at play here, but it will be interesting to see how one decision to return home affects the league in the long haul. I, for one, will always enjoy seeing small market teams succeed, and a small market team in Northeast Ohio just took a major step toward that success.