By extending his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James has likely committed himself to a level of short-term professional mediocrity that seems counterintuitive for an ambitious all-time superstar who will surpass Michael Jordan as the game’s greatest player. .

We know, championships are the coin of the realm for some basketball players like King James, exceptional enough to compete for the greatest name of all time. And LA, we also know, is clearly ill-equipped to give their newly-extended superstar another shot at another ring this year, or in the additional year or two he’ll now go on as a Laker.

But the extension — which locks LeBron in Los Angeles for at least one more year, through the 2023-24 season, and which sources confirmed to CBS Sports includes that third-year player option for 2024-25 — fits the bill. perfectly with the fascinating place LeBron has reached in his career: as a brilliant end-of-the-road achievement in the quality of life and personal advantages that come with living in Los Angeles, and a strategic nod to his career-long goal of defeated Jordan in the public eye.

The strategy behind this new deal is equal parts personal over professional and long-term branding, and both point to a more subtle and older version of James. He’s traded “not two, not three, not four” for future quality NBA time with his son and the need to collect rings in pursuit of the GOAT for something now more interesting and subtle.

Let’s start with the personal one.

Those inside the Lakers organization never doubted it would happen, pointing to the fact that, well, LeBron loves his life in Los Angeles. He is happy there. He is satisfied. And while, yes, Russell Westbrook is the totem of the troubles plaguing the basketball side, there is life beyond work, something new and fascinating about one of the most driven and ambitious players in NBA history.

That there is life beyond work is true for me. True to you. True for the richest and the poorest and the most and least of us. That deal — player option is key here — allows LeBron James to leave the Lakers in the summer of 2024 if, as expected, his oldest son Bronny James enters the NBA Draft.

That, too, is a quality-of-life factor that has far more to do with happiness than competition, and a long-stated goal of LeBron’s that sheds light on his priorities — happiness over winning, at best. obvious but true.

LeBron loves LA. He likes his life there. He wants to play in the league with his son. And this deal offers him all of that and, no, Lakers fans — in no way — does this extension imply LeBron’s belief that the Lakers can or even will win championships over the next two or three years. They almost certainly won’t. They are neither well built nor positioned. And that is unlikely to change.

Which brings us to the second point, and the reminder that human beings are complicated and that two things can be true at the same time. In this case, LeBron is prioritizing his quality of life and family over his career, and that staying in LA also has long-term strategic benefits from his lifelong obsession with convincing the world that he’s the goat.

Goat arguments are fun, interesting, and worth our time, despite former athletes claiming to hate these words. Privately, at least, they tend to like him as much as the rest of us.) But unlike the way these debates tend to pan out, there’s no safe calculation before deciding Jordan > LeBron, or LeBron > Jordan. or Steph > LeBron, or Kareem > everyone.

Deciding the greatest NBA player of all time is more art than science. It’s philosophy, not vote counting. It’s more alchemy than a surefire checklist.

LeBron knows that. He knows he has to be historically outstanding and is well on his way to checking the last few boxes. He knows he needs to win a lot of championships and, yes, Jordan fans, four is enough. But he also understands that there are pop culture factors (“Be Like Mike” certainly didn’t hurt Jordan) and other accomplishments along the way that can change public opinion.

You have to win games and rings, sure, but you also have to win hearts and minds.

And for LeBron, who is just 1,326 points away from passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, that record is a major way to do it. LeBron should surpass Kareem next season, but this extension ensures that neither injury nor an offseason will prevent him from doing so as a Laker.

Think about it. Making that point as a Los Angeles Laker has a lot more staying power — a brand impact, a wow factor, a long-term Q-rating enhancer, call it what you will — than doing it anywhere else. The purple and gold are iconic, and LeBron has ensured that he will make history wearing the colors most likely to increase the power and impact of point no. 38,388.

Think how many of the all-time sports greats the Lakers were. These superstars were larger than life, and their names roll off the tongue more like myths than men: Kareem. Magical. Kobe. Shaq. The logo. LeBron fits into the pantheon of such players.

Being the all-time leading scorer is the focus right now for LeBron, because that record is at least as important in the long run as, say, going to Cleveland for the third time and maybe — at a time of big maybe — to win a fifth championship.

Two rings are inaccessible. Kareem’s record is not. He can do the same as a Laker.

If that seems thoughtless and half-hearted, I can tell you what many people close to LeBron think. He is now a corporation as much as a player, and the narrative and legacy of his brand are matters of obsession for those tasked with protecting it.

So this Lakers deal isn’t about winning, well, at least not games. It is – as unlikely as it sounds – the beginning of the extended LeBron James farewell tour.

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