LeBron James deserves a Michael Jordan 'Last Dance'-style doc, and here are the questions we need answered
James' eventful career, both on and off the court, provides great material for an epic documentary down the road
For the last five weeks, NBA fans everywhere were captivated by "The Last Dance," the ESPN documentary detailing the ups and downs of Michael Jordan's legendary life and career. The absence of the documentary moving forward has left fans with a familiar thirst for sports content, particularly of the nostalgic and revelatory variety. The 20-year-long effort and finesse put into "The Last Dance" can't soon be duplicated, but we can at least start to think about who's next.
No retired player comes close to Jordan in terms of fame and intrigue, but a current player might be on his way: LeBron James. There is already a documentary about James called, "More Than A Game," but it focuses on his high school days. Now in the twilight of his career, James has already provided us with enough excellence, controversy and question marks to fill countless hours of airtime. James is somewhat more of an open book than Jordan because of social media and player empowerment, but it's safe to say that most of what we get from and about LeBron is a controlled version. What we want is an unbridled glimpse into his psyche and decision-making as he progresses as both a basketball player and a person.
With that in mind, we decided to sketch out what a documentary on James might look like 20 or so years from now. Hopefully he'd be willing to be honest about the way certain things went down, and even provide some untold stories along the way. You can argue about their basketball talent and accomplishments, but LeBron is the closest we have to Jordan in terms of overall aura and mystique, so it'd be fun to see James given the same treatment we just saw for Jordan.
High School Years
- James appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary with the headline, "The Chosen One." (2002)
- James scores 31 points in his first nationally-televised game as a high school senior, leading St. Vincent-St. Mary to a 65-45 win over No. 1 Oak Hill Academy. (2002)
- Before being drafted, James signs a $90 million deal with Nike. (2003)
- James is drafted No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who play just outside of his hometown of Akron, Ohio. (2003)
Questions that need answers
So what really happened with that Hummer? Shortly after his 18th birthday, James began driving a Hummer H2, leading to an investigation from the Ohio High School Athletic Association as to how James and/or his family acquired the vehicle. The investigation found that James' mother, Gloria, had taken out a $50,000 loan against her son's future earnings in order to get the Hummer. It would be great to hear James, decades later, explain whether this, or other gifts like the throwback jerseys that later caused him to briefly lose his high school eligibility, were bribes from people trying to get into his good graces before he hit the NBA jackpot.
Was the lottery rigged? Lottery tampering is one of the oldest NBA conspiracies, and it's impossible to ignore the coincidence of James landing with the Cavaliers, located less than an hour from his hometown. The Cavs tied with the Nuggets for the worst record in the league in 2002-03, and they ended up getting the top pick while Denver had to "settle" for Carmelo Anthony at No. 3. James likely wouldn't discuss it, but it would at least be worth hearing his vehement denial.
First Cavaliers stint
- James drops 25 points in his NBA debut, a 106-92 loss to the Kings. (2003)
- James wins Rookie of the Year, averaging 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds one year removed from high school. (2004)
- In his playoff debut, James puts up a triple-double against the Washington Wizards. He averages 30.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 13 postseason games while leading Cleveland to within one win of advancing to the Eastern Conference finals. (2006)
- In his signature breakout playoff moment, a 22-year-old James scores 48 points -- including 29 of the Cavs' 30 points in the fourth quarter and overtime -- to lead Cleveland to a Game 5 win over the Pistons in Detroit. The Cavs go on to win the series and advance to franchise's first NBA Finals, where they're swept by the San Antonio Spurs. (2007)
- James wins his first gold medal as a member of Team USA at the Beijing Olympics. (2008)
- At 24 years old, James wins his first of four NBA MVP awards. (2009)
- After a year of speculation as to whether he'd return to the Cavs as a free agent after the season, James takes off his Cleveland jersey on his way back to the locker room after being eliminated by the Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. (2010)
Questions that need answers
Did LeBron know he was leaving when he ripped off his jersey? It's an indelible image that even at the time drew concerns from Cleveland fans, but in retrospect it certainly seems like James may have known he would not re-sign with the Cavs following that playoff loss. It would be insightful to hear James' decision-making process leading up to one of the most league-changing free agency moves in sports history.
When did things go south with Dan Gilbert? Gilbert took over as Cavs owner in 2005 and perhaps failed to put the necessary talent around James to turn Cleveland into a true contender. The relationship between James and Gilbert has reportedly been tumultuous, so it would be incredible to hear James' own words about how things evolved with Gilbert in Cleveland, and how it ultimately led to him leaving for Miami.
- Two months after being eliminated from the playoffs, James holds an unprecedented televised event called "The Decision," at the Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Connecticut. In front of dozens of children in attendance and countless fans watching at home, James announces that he will leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to take his "talents to South Beach" to play with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat. The special reportedly generates $2.5 million for the Boys & Girls Club of America, but is met with immediate and lasting scrutiny. (2010)
- Shortly after James' announcement, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert posts a letter to fans on the team website, famously written in the Comic Sans font. Gilbert is harsh on James, calling the televised event "narcissistic," "self-promotional" and "bitterly disappointing." In the letter Gilbert also guarantees, in all caps, that the Cavaliers will win an NBA championship before James. (2010)
- The day after The Decision, the Heat hold a nationally-televised press conference from American Airlines Arena during which James, Wade and Bosh appear on stage. Heat broadcaster Eric Reid says that he knows the three players came to Miami to win multiple championships and LeBron interrupts him with the famous line, "Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven. And when I say that, I really believe it." (2010)
Questions that need answers
How and why did LeBron come to his decision? We've heard bits and pieces from LeBron and the parties involved, but you could dedicate an entire episode of the documentary to a full recounting of the events leading up to The Decision and what ensued afterward. Getting full, never-before-heard details about the story of LeBron joining the Heat would be a huge selling point for the documentary.
What was Pat Riley thinking during the "not five, not six, not seven" remark? The production crew makes a timely cut to Riley in the stands just after James essentially says the goal is to win eight championships as a member of the Miami Heat. Let's just say he does not look as enthusiastic as the rest of the onlookers. The Heat won two titles, well short of James' goal, and it would be incredible to hear Riley's honest assessment of what took place during that pep rally.
Why Comic Sans? It's the question on everyone's mind. Why not go with the default Arial? Or the classic Helvetica? To write a letter of that magnitude in a font that literally has the word "comic" in it is truly mind-boggling. Explain yourself, Dan Gilbert.
The Heat Years
- Contrary to expectations, the Heat begin their inaugural season with LeBron, Wade and Bosh with a pedestrian 9-8 record and receive intense scrutiny. Miami promptly wins 21 of its next 22 games. (2010)
- In the first trip to the NBA Finals for the "Big 3," the Heat are stunned by Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, who win their first NBA title in six games. James draws heavy criticism after averaging 17.8 points in the Finals, taking fewer shots than both Wade and Bosh. (2011)
- After taking home his third MVP award during the 2011-12 season, James wins his first NBA championship as the Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. James wins his first Finals MVP after averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists in the series. (2012)
- James wins his second gold medal as Team USA narrowly outduels Spain at the London Olympics. (2012)
- The Heat rattle off a 27-game winning streak, the second-longest in NBA history for a single season, and finish the year with 66 wins. (2013)
- After James misses a 3-pointer on the Heat's final possession of regulation, Chris Bosh gets the offensive rebound and Ray Allen's now-legendary 3-pointer ties Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. The Heat eventually get the victory in overtime to avoid elimination, and win Game 7 to earn their second straight title. James once again wins Finals MVP with series averages of 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists. (2013)
- In a Finals rematch with the Spurs, the Heat lose in five games and are outscored by an average of 18 points in the four losses. Facing a player option, James now has the offseason decision of whether to opt in with the Heat or leave in free agency. (2014)
Questions that need answers
How close was Erik Spoelstra to being fired? In Ian Thomsen's book, "The Soul of Basketball," Pat Riley says after the Heat fell to 9-8 in 2010, he called James, Wade and Bosh in for a meeting, when LeBron asked Riley if he ever got "the itch to coach again." Riley told him no, but LeBron had made it clear that he wasn't happy with the team's direction under Spoelstra. Did Riley ever truly consider taking over, and did James ever get any clearer about his preference for a different coach? These would be fascinating topics to explore.
What changed in LeBron after the 2011 Finals? James has said he wasn't a complete player yet and that the 2011 Finals loss to the Mavericks fueled him to get better, but what did that entail? What were the days and months like afterward under constant criticism of not being able to lead his team to a title? This would be a chance for major reflection.
How did the power dynamic shift between LeBron and Wade? Close friends off the court, James and Wade clearly took a different approach on the court after losing to the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, with LeBron emerging as the clear alpha. It would be great to hear how those conversations went, and how their friendship may have helped or hindered their basketball discussions.
What was LeBron's favorite accomplishment in the Heat years? Back-to-back titles, two MVPs and a gold medal isn't bad for a four-year stretch. Reflecting on it later in life, you wonder which is LeBron's favorite memory of the bunch.
Return to Cleveland
- In a Sports Illustrated article rather than a televised special, James announces that he's returning home to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency. In the article, James notably omits recent No. 1 overall picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett in his list of future teammates. A little over a month later, both players are traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Love. (2014)
- James and the Cavaliers reach the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, but Love misses the entire series while Kyrie Irving only plays one game due to a knee injury. Cleveland loses in six games, but LeBron puts on an all-time performance with averages of 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists, earning him four of 11 Finals MVP votes. (2015)
- James and the Cavaliers come back from a 3-1 deficit in a Finals rematch against the 73-win Warriors to bring Cleveland its first NBA championship trophy. LeBron's chase-down block on Andre Iguodala late in Game 7 that leads to Irving's game-winning 3-pointer becomes an iconic NBA Finals moment. With series averages of 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists, James wins his third Finals MVP award. (2016)
- Facing the Warriors in the Finals for the third straight season, LeBron and the Cavaliers are no match for Golden State, which now has Kevin Durant in the fold. James averages a triple-double of 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists in the five-game series. (2017)
- After criticizing President Trump during an ESPN interview, James is told by Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham to "shut up and dribble." James responds by saying, "We will definitely not shut up and dribble ... I mean too much to society, too much to the youth, too much to so many kids who feel like they don't have a way out." (2018)
- Now without Irving, James and the Cavs battle their way back to the Finals to once again meet the Warriors. Despite a herculean Game 1 performance from James (51 points, eight rebounds, eight assists), the Cavs lose in overtime and go on to be swept by Golden State. James is once again faced with a player option, and speculation builds that he will join the Los Angeles Lakers. (2018)
Questions that need answers
What made Kyrie Irving want to leave? There's no telling how long the Cavs could have extended their Finals streak if Irving decided to stay with the team rather than forcing a trade. We know Irving and James are both strong personalities, but getting a play-by-play of the events that ultimately led to Irving being shipped to Boston would be utterly enthralling.
How did LeBron forgive Dan Gilbert? The butting of heads. The letter. The animosity. How did Gilbert convince James that a return to Cleveland would work? Did he even need to?
How much influence did LeBron have on personnel decisions? The idea of LeBron James playing GM of the Cavaliers became popular over the course of his second stint with the team, starting with the Love trade and heating up after head coach David Blatt was replaced by Tyronn Lue. It would be great to hear honest perspective on just what kind of demands, if any, James placed on the front office during this period to avoid a repeat of his first years with the team.
Did LeBron really break his hand after the J.R. Smith incident? James shocked fans and media by appearing for his press conference following the deciding Game 4 of the 2018 Finals with a brace on his right hand. He admitted that he "let the emotions get the best" of him following Game 1, during which teammate J.R. Smith appeared to forget the score while he dribbled out the clock in a tie game before heading to overtime. It was later reported that James suffered the injury punching the whiteboard after the game. Just how bad the injury was, and how exactly he did it, would be great details to hear from all of the witnesses.
The Laker Years
- On the first day of free agency, James' management company announces that he will sign a four-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. (2018)
- Less than a month after signing with the Lakers, James opens the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. The school offers tremendous support and assistance for some of the area's most challenged students and their parents. In a tweet, James calls the opening of the school "one of the greatest moments (if not the greatest) of my life." (2018)
- After starting the season at 4-6, the Lakers have built a 19-14 record when James suffers a groin injury during a Christmas Day win over the Golden State Warriors. The injury limits James to just 55 games, only the second time he's played fewer than 69 games in his entire career, and his team misses the playoffs for the first time since James' second season in the NBA. (2018)
- Magic Johnson, who was instrumental in bringing James to the Lakers, abruptly and unexpectedly resigns from his post as the team's president of basketball operations before the final game of the regular season. A month later, Johnson publicly cites "backstabbing" and "whispering" from general manager Rob Pelinka as reasons for his resignation. (2019)
- Anthony Davis, who had demanded a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans in February and reportedly had strong interest in joining fellow Klutch Sports client LeBron James in Los Angeles, is finally traded to the Lakers days after the conclusion of the 2019 NBA Finals. The Lakers give up a large haul of young players and draft picks to team up Davis and James. (2019)
- With the Lakers holding the Western Conference's best record at 49-14, the NBA season comes to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. James' hopes for a fourth NBA title in his 16th season are indefinitely put on hold, along with most major sports around the world. (2020)
Questions that need answers
When did LeBron decide to join the Lakers? Most experts saw the move coming pretty early, but it would be interesting to find out when exactly James knew he was going to L.A. and how long he'd been planning it.
Did LeBron tell the front office who to trade for Davis? The Lakers sent three young players to New Orleans for Davis -- Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart -- but Kyle Kuzma was left out of the trade. Is that because James wanted Kuzma on the team? Did LeBron put any pressure on the Lakers to add extra draft picks to sweeten the deal?
What led to Magic's resignation? This needs to be covered from all angles, with as many anecdotes and details as possible.
How did the coronavirus shutdown affect LeBron and the Lakers? We won't know the answer for a while, but whatever takes place over the next few months will make an incredible story.
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