LeBron James got the basketball world buzzing on Monday night after he seemingly hinted at the idea of retirement following the Los Angeles Lakers’ season-ending loss to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals. “I got a lot to think about,” James said after the game. “Just personally, with me moving forward with the game of basketball, I got a lot to think about.”
The quote was kind of vague, but after the game it was confirmed that James is indeed considering retirement after 20 seasons in the NBA. At 38 years old, James could truly be thinking about hanging up his signature Nikes. However, him retiring at this point in time seems somewhat unlikely for three big reasons.
1. Financial implications
Walking away from the game at this particular point in time would cost James a pretty penny in contract money. Last August, James agreed to a massive two-year, $97 million contract extension that hasn’t even kicked in yet. James is set to make nearly $47 million next season, per Sportrac, and his deal is set to be worth north of $50 million in 2024-25 if he picks up his player option. So, if he were to retire this offseason, he would lose the entirety of that recent extension.
Not that James necessarily needs it, but nearly $100 million is a whole lot of money to leave on the table, and that’s not even including any additional money James could make on future contracts if he were to keep playing. Perhaps James’ comments regarding retirement were simply a way to put pressure on the Lakers to upgrade the roster over the offseason. We’ll find out in the coming months. In the meantime, James will have to mull over his options and decide if he’s ultimately willing to walk away from a whole lot of cash.
2. Opportunity to play with Bronny
James has long maintained a deep desire to share a professional court with his son, Bronny, who will be a freshman at USC this upcoming season and will be eligible for the 2024 NBA Draft.
“I need to be on the floor with my boy, I got to be on the floor with Bronny,” James said earlier this year, via ESPN. “Either in the same uniform or a matchup against him… But I would love to do the whole Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. thing. That would be ideal for sure.
“I ask him what are his aspirations, and he says he wants to play in the NBA,” James added. “So, if he wants do to it, he’s got to put in the work. I’m here already, so, I’m just waiting on him.”
James even signed an extension with the Lakers last year that allows him to opt out in 2024 — the same time Bronny will be draft eligible. There’s obviously no guarantee that Bronny will make it to the league in 2024, or beyond, but he appears to be well on his way. After L.A.’s loss to Denver, James did seem to slightly soften his stance on playing with his son, for what it’s worth.
“I’ve done what I’ve had to do in this league, and my son is going to take his journey,” James said. “And whatever his journey, however his journey lays out, he’s going to do what’s best for him. And as his dad, and his mom, Savannah, and his brother and sister, we’re going to support him in whatever he decides to do. So, just because that’s my aspiration or my goal, doesn’t mean it’s his. And I’m absolutely OK with that.”
In order to share a court with Bronny, James would have to play for two more years, at least, which he certainly seems physically capable of. He just tallied 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists while playing all but four seconds against Denver in the season-ending Game 4 loss, after all. Playing with Bronny has been a motivating factor for LeBron later in his career, and with the possibility finally approaching, it feels unlikely that James will really decide to walk away without fully exploring that opportunity.
Technically, James doesn’t have anything left to play for, as he’s already accomplished everything. He’s won titles with multiple teams, MVP Awards and virtually every other individual accolade they hand out. His legacy is set in stone.
But as a player who has always been hyper-aware of his own legacy and where he stands among the greats in the game, he also has to understand how much winning another title with the Lakers would mean. A fifth ring would tie him with Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson, and put him one behind Michael Jordan. All three of those guys won their titles with the same team. The fact that James was able to lead multiple franchises to the top of the mountain adds an impressive layer to his resume.
Plus, it looks like James still has a lot to give to the game. The guy averaged 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game this season, and he helped lead a Lakers team that was thrown together in the middle of the season to the conference finals. Perhaps he can’t singlehandedly carry a team like he used to, but he’s still clearly one of the absolute best players in the league and capable of being a top contributor on a championship-level team. He’s certainly well aware of this, and it’s difficult to imagine him leaving the game with his tank still as full as it appers to be.