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LeBron James Leaves Cleveland To Play For Los Angeles Lakers


Los Angeles, city of stars, landed a big one. LeBron James has announced he is leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the NBA's LA Lakers. His agency announced a four-year deal worth $154 million. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Hi there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So when I heard this news, my first thought is, well, of course. Given the bizarre way that the Cavaliers lost the NBA finals, maybe LeBron just said, enough of Cleveland, enough of these teammates.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Yeah. Losing 4-0 to Golden State was not a pretty thing, obviously. But, you know, Steve, the Lakers aren't the place to go to challenge Golden State right away because the Lakers, they have a young roster and no other major stars at this point. But, you know, this appears to be a move for basketball and for life. And in that sense, this makes sense. James knows the Lakers are going to try to build a powerful team around him in the next couple of years. Plus, he has two homes in LA. He has serious business and entertainment ambitions for the future, and LA's a pretty good place to be if you want all that to flourish.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Well, now, this is not something that James has not done before. He left Cleveland once before and made people very angry when he went down to Miami. How are people responding this time around?

GOLDMAN: Well, yes. Of course, the decision - a bungled reality TV moment. It was met with widespread anger, as you say - jersey burning in Cleveland. Fans really felt betrayed. This time, he did it the right way. On Instagram, he thanked the people of northeast Ohio, quote, "for an incredible four seasons," saying this will always be home. And for Cavs fans, the four years after he returned to Cleveland from Miami were incredible - four-straight NBA Finals and the team's first-ever title in 2016.

So to answer your question, because of that, the early reports out of northeast Ohio are that people are responding much more charitably. They are sad but thankful LeBron James delivered on his promise of bringing the city a championship. And that includes Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who put out a nasty statement when James left Cleveland the first time. This time, he thanked James for giving Cleveland its, quote, "precious moment."

INSKEEP: Although Cleveland still has to do without LeBron. What does this mean for them?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) This means, probably, they're not going to go to the NBA finals for a fifth straight year. James is leaving the Eastern Conference for the West. It shifts the balance of power even more to the already loaded Western Conference. The best teams left in the East - Boston and, to a lesser extent, Philadelphia - they're excited - certainly an easier road to the finals for them now that LeBron is gone.

INSKEEP: So what are the odds that LeBron can turn around the Lakers, given what you said about the status of that team right now?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, Las Vegas is hyperventilating. They've put the Lakers at - given them odds of winning a championship right under the two-time defending champion Warriors. That is a tad unrealistic. LeBron James is one of the greats, but as we found out last month against Golden State, he can't win a title by himself. The interesting part, Steve - this contract is a long one by today's superstar standards. It's a four-year contract, meaning he's giving the Lakers time to build around him, if not for this upcoming season then surely the season after, when a bunch of great players will be free agents and available to team up with James in LA. And I'm sure they'll be eager to do so.

INSKEEP: Beginning of the next chapter of the LeBron story. Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.