Monday, April 15, 2024
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WNBA legend offers thoughtful retirement advice for LeBron James: ‘It’s just as much about the fans’

LeBron James may be 21 years into arguably the greatest NBA career any player has ever had, but all good things come to an end eventually. Whether it’s in one year or several, James will eventually play his final NBA game, and as he claimed at All-Star Weekend, he’s not exactly sure how he wants that to play out.

“I don’t know how many seasons I have left. I know it’s not that many. I was asked this question a couple days ago, ‘Will you take the farewell tour or just ‘Tim Duncan’ it?’ I’m 50-50,” James said. Duncan, famously, did not publicly reveal his retirement plans during the 2015-16 season. His San Antonio Spurs were eliminated from the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder and he quietly retired afterward.

During that same season, Kobe Bryant went on one of the most extravagant retirement tours the NBA has ever seen. Teams gave him gifts as he arrived in arenas for the final time, and the whole affair culminated with a 60-point finale in his last game against the Utah Jazz

Bryant wasn’t the first player to do a retirement tour. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a famous one of his own at the end of his legendary career, and New York Yankees legends Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera both had extravagant sendoffs. But Duncan and Bryant, both due to their stature and their differing preferences, have become the modern example of the retirement spectrum. James, publicly at least, has indicated that he currently falls somewhere between the two.

Fortunately, another basketball legend has some advice for him. WNBA icon Sue Bird followed Bryant’s path and had a tour of her own for her final season, and in an appearance on Sports Media with Richard Deitsch, she advised James to do the same.

“When I look back I still have fond, fond, fond memories,” Bird said of her tour. “I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m so glad I announced when I announced and I got to experience the farewell tour, and I was actually anti-that at one point a couple of years prior, so that was interesting for me to experience it in that way. My only regret is how the season ended because we lost.

“Otherwise, no, whoever this applies to, I could not recommend this more. I tell Diana, ‘I cannot recommend this enough,’ if I talked to LeBron right now, I’d be like ‘Bro, I could not recommend this enough.’ Because what I realized is a couple of things. One, it’s just as much about the fans and them being able to say goodbye to you. And I always thought of it like, ‘I don’t know if I want this attention.’ You have to almost see outside of yourself and understand that this is going to be meaningful for so many people. The second thing, I will say, it can be a lot. It can be a lot, but I just think the pros outweigh the cons. I’ll finish with, it is each individual’s choice, you have to be up for it, or game for it. I would just always argue that there might be things you personally gain or things you learn about yourself, your career, your relationship with the fans without this experience.”

Given his longevity, fans need that opportunity to say goodbye to James more than they have for any other star in league history. He’s been around for over two decades with no end in sight. He’s already played against 40% of all players in NBA history, and that number is going to creep closer to a 50-50 split the longer he stays in the league. There are quite a few adult fans that have never experienced an NBA without James in it.

Fortunately, while James himself hasn’t made a commitment in one direction or another, the general consensus seems to be that he is likelier to do one than not. Yes, he hinted at retirement consideration after losing the Western Conference Finals last season, but those comments were dismissed so heartily by the rest of the league that Nuggets coach Michael Malone even joked about them at after Denver won the title.

James has never been subtle. Whatever he does, he does it with flair. The thought that the player behind “The Decision” might retire without any fanfare seems very unlikely. If Bird’s comments help push him over the top, then all the better.

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