Some may say that Philadelphia sports has reached the pinnacle. When the Eagles brought the first Super Bowl championship home to the City of Brotherly Love, a city that is often considered a football town, seemingly summited the great sports mountain. Since the Lombardi Trophy made its way down Broad Street, the Flyers have skated within two points of first place in the Metropolitan Division and trusting “The Process” is finally paying off as the Sixers sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, comfortably in the playoffs for the first time in six years were the season to end today. Might everyone be wrong? Might this just be the beginning of Philly’s ascent? One month after the underdogs scored the biggest upset in town since Rocky took down Apollo Creed, two words are buzzing around the city and they aren’t “World Champions”.
LeBron James. Tune in to any sports talk radio in Philadelphia and the topic of discussion will be LeBron James. “King James” is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and there is speculation that LeBron may choose to take his talents to the birthplace of America and join two of the league’s rising stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Much of Philadelphia wants him. One company shelled out the cash to purchase three billboards in Cleveland calling for James to #CompletetheProcess and assuring him that #PhillyWantsLeBron.
More importantly the players want him. Simmons and Embiid have both posted on Instagram calling for LeBron to join “The Process”. The Aussie point guard, labeled the “Young King” by James himself, alluded to the precise moment that the Sixers could lock up LeBron. Embiid mentioned #summer2018goals and the center’s desire for James to join the movement in Philly. Clearly, the recruitment for Bron-Bron is in full swing.
Most importantly, it seems LeBron is very much open to the idea of suiting up in the red, white and blue. Despite suffering the loss in a March 1 meeting between the two teams, James clearly displayed brotherly love towards Simmons and Embiid exchanging smiles and hugs with the two. He also took to Instagram posting a photo of a moment where he was caught smiling at Simmons, sporting Sixer blue sneakers, and leaving flattering words of praise for the rookie of the year candidate and his all-star teammate.
Bringing in the 13-time all-star, four-time MVP, and three-time Finals champion would certainly lift some pressure off the shoulders of two players who weren’t even ten years old the last time the Sixers made the Finals, and provide the team with a more-than solid small forward to, at worst, supplement Simmons at point and Embiid in the paint. The addition of James would give the Sixers a well-groomed and seasoned version of Simmons with his ability to drive to the hoop at will but find the open man when the double team collapses on him. He’s good for just over 27 points per game and is a constant threat for a triple-double. The six-time All Defensive selection would also solidify one of the most vicious, athletic defenses in the league, and could prove to be a mentor for both Simmons and Embiid to help take their game to the next level.
Not all of the city is in love with the thought of James jumping ship yet again, and fear that he may disrupt the process more than anything. There is no doubt that LeBron loves to have the ball in his hand. In Cleveland this year with a less than stellar supporting cast, he has taken a majority of the teams shots. Over 1,200 attempts to be exact, and twice as many as the next closest
player on the list, Kevin Love. Over four years during his first go at a super team with Miami, LeBron took 22% of the shots while Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took 16% and 15% respectively. That may not seem drastic, but in total James had over 1,200 more attempts than either player. The only two seasons in his career where LeBron was topped in field goal attempts ended with losses to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals, and led to the departure of co-star Kyrie Irving from Cleveland.
Not only does he take the most shots, he often comes up short in the clutch. With the opportunity to tie or win a playoff game with ten seconds or less remaining, James has a dismal career 22% conversion rate. It dropped even lower, to 20%, since opting to “share” the spotlight with other stars in his move to Miami and back to Cleveland. On a well-balanced Sixers team that features six players averaging double figures in scoring, would LeBron be able to step back, share the ball, and allow Simmons and Embiid to remain in control of the team? Or would his obligation as “The Chosen One” lead him to put the fate of the process in his “golden” hands?
Then there’s the power struggle. It is well-known that wherever he goes, “The King” is in charge. Dating back to his first run in Cleveland prior to any rings, as mentioned in Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal’s book, LeBron does what he wants. David Blatt’s tenure as Cavs head coach was cut short after just one and a half seasons despite a winning percentage of .675 and a trip to the Finals, a series against the Warriors in which James shot a less-than-stellar 38% from the field, only to be replaced by Tyronn Lue. Philly fans may be familiar with Lue who, unbeknownst to him, constantly relives the nightmare of A.I. in the ‘01 Finals, only this time it’s LeBron who is stepping over him on a nightly basis. James is at it again this year, shipping teammates away because they couldn’t get it done for him. So if he chooses Philly, is he willing to trust in the coach’s game plan, or will he push Brett Brown aside, demand control of the huddle, and sub himself in and out whenever he pleases?
Yes, “The King” never shies away from letting the media and the league know of his greatness, and he can be seen complaining to the referees as often as he is driving to the basket. Yes, he made a monumental mistake dubbing his move to the Heat “The Decision” and airing an hour-long self-indulgent special on ESPN. A special in which he declared he would “take his talents” to Miami, as if they should feel so honored that he chose them. But for as often as he is in the spotlight, LeBron has proven that he knows how to handle himself and is a model citizen in the community. For the most part, he says the right things, and is not a source of negative controversy off the court. He stands for what he believes in, and is an active participant in the fight for social justice. He just comes off, at the least, as very confident.
So perhaps it’s that confidence that the Sixers so desperately need. Perhaps LeBron James is the missing piece to the puzzle; the final step in the process. I’m personally indifferent, undecided. If LeBron comes to Philly and wins the ‘chip, you will certainly find me at the parade, but it wouldn’t taste as sweet as if they dethroned “The King” in doing so. Would it have tasted as good if it was Tom Brady with the touchdown reception on the 4th and goal “Philly Special” (not that he could’ve caught it) instead of our lord and savior St. Nick? I don’t think so.
Like it or not, Philadelphia has a legitimate chance of landing James. In a time when it is a red-hot destination in sports, the summer of 2018 is sure to be a summer of madness for Philadelphia. What do you think? Are you team #PhillyWantsLeBron? Head over to my poll on twitter, and let me know!