The days and hours leading up to LeBron James choosing the Los Angeles Lakers will be highly discussed, chronicled and will live in Laker lore. The great Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated offered Laker fans the first in-depth look behind the curtain at James’ path to Los Angeles.
Among the many great tidbits in the piece is the sequence of events on Saturday, starting with a meeting with advisors and culminating a phone call with Kobe Bryant and a meeting with Magic Johnson.
James has slow-pedaled his last two free-agent decisions, but from the moment his private plane landed at Van Nuys Airport in L.A. on Saturday, he was proceeding with unusual urgency. He met with Paul extensively Saturday and planned communication with the Cavs, Sixers and Lakers. But he was clearly focused on the new home team. He talked with Kobe Bryant over the phone and invited Magic Johnson to his house in Brentwood. Late Saturday night, Johnson walked through the door.
Bryant was oft-criticized for his reported role in recruiting free agents to Los Angeles while he was still a member of the Lakers. But few players understand playing in the spotlight of Los Angeles more than Bryant.
After spending much of Sunday weighing his options, James made the final call in the moments before flying across the globe for a European vacation with his wife.
On Sunday afternoon, James and his wife went back to Van Nuys Airport. They were flying east again, this time to Europe, for a couple’s trip. His advisors didn’t know if he’d pick a team before he left for Europe or after he landed, or even after he returned. They prepared an old-fashioned press release under the letterhead of Paul’s agency, Klutch Sports Group, but they weren’t sure if or when they’d distribute it. James phoned Paul as he was boarding the private plane. “Call the Lakers,” he said.
If the exact quote was “Call the Lakers” and that’s it, then it’s one of the most iconic things in Lakers lore in quite some time. Few players could grab the entire league by the horns like James and that quote would symbolize a self-awareness of such.
At the end of the day, James is a Laker and Los Angeles has vaulted back toward the top of the league.