LeBron James’ Free Agency Reminds the NBA Who’s King

The best basketball player on Earth opted out of his contract because he could.

LeBron James’ decision to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat hit America’s sports writers like a mule kick to the head. Will he go back to Miami? Could he replace Carmelo in New York? Could he end up playing for Steve Ballmer’s Clippers? The answer to all these newsy questions is: “Yes.” The important thing for James is that the questions are being asked. The Heat got smoked by the Spurs in the Finals and the NBA Draft, which starts Thursday, will be a showcase for young stars. King James needed to remind his subjects that his rule has not ended.

And let’s be clear: The reign of LeBron is far from over. The “Whore of Akron” put up intimidating numbers this season: 27.1 points per game and a 12.3 win share over 77 games played. He’s in great shape and whatever team he plays for will – by virtue of him playing for them – be a playoff contender. He’s got two MVPs, two titles, and a rainy day fund so massive he can afford to build an ark. LeBron is unique in professional sports in that he has free agency in an almost cosmic sense and there is no better way to demonstrate that fact than to force his employers to grovel publicly.

LeBron may listen to Pat Riley, but he’s not beholden to him. For his part, Riley knows that “bringing LeBron back to Miami” would be a PR coup for both of them. From the outside the castle walls, deliberations tend to look like palace intrigue and actual intrigue tends to pass unheralded. Anyone not named LeBron James or Savannah Brinson probably has a limited view of the situation. The King gets what he wants and it’s unclear at this juncture what exactly he would have his subjects do.

The pageantry that will inevitably surround James’ second decision, which he doesn’t have to make in a hurry, should be fun to watch and will certainly give SportsCenter video editors a reason to put together a few more highlight reels. The discussion about his value will almost certainly increase it. James knows this because he spent a 10-day road trip earlier this year pouring over Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” which famously advises leaders to “appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

LeBron just lost big and he’s never looked stronger.

Photos by Andy Lyons/Getty Images