The possibility of LeBron James joining the Lakers this offseason had been a topic of speculation for more than a year, but it’s one thing to think it might happen and quite another to experience the actual moment of confirmation. After the four-time NBA MVP made his announcement via Twitter on Sunday, the first day of the free agency period, other players around the league took to social media to offer a collective “Wow.”
It wasn’t a completely foregone conclusion that James would defect from the Cavaliers, his team of the past four years and 11 of his 15 NBA seasons, to the Lakers, even if they were widely perceived as the front-runners. The Akron, Ohio, native was also thought to have a good chance of returning to Cleveland, if only for one more season perhaps, and the 76ers were reported to have pitched James on joining forces with their collection of impressive young talent.
Instead, James became the latest superstar to don the familiar purple-and-gold uniform, following the likes of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. His sports management agency, Klutch, said he had agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract in a tweet that broke the news. (Later, it was revealed that the deal is actually worth only $153.3 million.)
“Oh man Staples center is bouta be on fire,” tweeted the Heat’s Josh Richardson, referring to the Lakers’ arena. The Pacers’ Trevor Booker said with wry overstatement, “The Lakers are now worth 200 billion dollars.”
“Didn’t see that one coming,” tweeted the Bucks’ Eric Bledsoe, possibly in sarcasm. Trae Young, just acquired by the Hawks in a major draft-day deal with the Mavericks, had a more clearly stunned reaction, saying, “Whaaaaaaaat,” with a flushed-face emoji.
The wide-eyes emoji was favored by other players, including Lakers draftee Moritz Wagner, as well as the Kings’ Buddy Hield, the Trail Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic and free agent Marreese Speights. One of Moritz’s new teammates, Josh Hart, initially offered his own “Wow,” before tweeting, “The SHOW is back.”
A similar sentiment was provided by Los Angeles’ Kyle Kuzma, who tweeted, “LAKESHOWWWW.” Adding James’s Twitter handle, he said, “let’s go my brotha let’s rock.”
Another young Laker, Lonzo Ball, sounded entirely unsurprised by the news, tweeting, “Y’all really thought he was gonna pass up the greatest city in the world …,” adding “#TheKingIsHere” with a crown emoji. Of course, it remains to be seen whether any of Ball, Kuzma or Hart winds up getting traded to the Spurs in a package for Kawhi Leonard, the kind of established star who might better help James make a ninth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
In the meantime, several players around the league were left to marvel at how the talent gap between the Western and Eastern conferences, already pronounced, appeared to get even wider with James’s move from Cleveland to Los Angeles. “The Wild Wild West,” tweeted the Magic’s Terrence Ross.
“Gotta love the West,” Jazz star Donovan Mitchell said, while another Utah player, Ekpe Udoh, exclaimed, “Dawg fight in the west!!!” The Trail Blazers’ Wade Baldwin was feeling a little unnerved by the increased star power in his conference, at least if this tweet was any indication: “The West gets spookier every year.”
Marcin Gortat, recently traded from the Wizards to the Clippers, noted that it was shaping up to be an “interesting year” in Los Angeles. The Warriors’ Jordan Bell opined that it would “take a while for all the Kobe/Laker fans to have to start cheering for Lebron.”
As for Bryant himself, he welcomed James “to the family.” The Black Mamba also offered a “well done!!!” to the Lakers’ front office, including Johnson, who took over last year as president of basketball operations and had recently said he should be fired if he didn’t land the team a superstar or two over the next couple of summers.
The Lakers got their superstar — again — and they more than got the attention of the rest of the NBA. Of the power vacuum James left in the East, the 76ers’ Joel Embiid appeared to be asserting that his squad is ready to fill it, at the expense of the other team seemingly most ready to represent the conference in the Finals, the Celtics.
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