If you're a LeBron James superfan who has been freaking out since he hinted at retirement, you can exhale: On Thursday, a source close to the Los Angeles Lakers star told ESPN's Dave McMenamin that he believes James will return for the 2023-24 NBA season and fulfill his contract.
This is not quite the same as James himself coming out and saying that he was just exhausted and emotional after being swept in the conference finals on Monday when he made a cryptic comment about his future during his press conference and then directly told ESPN that he had to think about "if I want to continue to play." Taken together with multiple reporters indicating that they don't expect James to step away, though, it is a strong sign that he'll be back for Year 21.
Previously, The Athletic's Sam Amick cited sources close to James downplaying the idea that he'll retire this offseason, and The Sporting Tribune's Mike Medina cited a person familiar with James' thinking expressing skepticism about it.
The language here about fulfilling his contract is tricky -- one could take that to mean that James is set on playing out the two-year extension he signed with Los Angeles, which will pay him approximately $97 million. The second year, however, is a player option, which means he can hit free agency in the summer of 2024. And if he wanted to at least think about retirement at the end of this season, he'll presumably consider it at the end of next season, too.
How likely is it that James will play with his son Bronny before walking away? Does he want a retirement tour? These are the kinds of questions you can expect to hear for a while. Whether or not his retirement is imminent, though, increasingly seems like a silly question. As ESPN put it, James' decision "could be a nonissue," and the more pressing problem for the Lakers is what to do at the point guard position.