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How fatherhood might impact LeBron James' free agency

Dan Wetzel
Columnist
LeBron James with his daughter, Zhuri, after the Cavs won the NBA title in 2016. (AP)

LeBron James was raised in Akron, Ohio, by a single teen mother, Gloria, who did all she could while working multiple jobs. An only child, an appreciative LeBron would often make her a card on not just Mother’s Day, but Father’s Day, too.

A series of father figures came through his life – coaches, mentors, whatever. Some stuck. Some didn’t. LeBron was a prodigy, with a life more in common with a child actor than anything else, a lottery ticket some wanted to help and some just wanted to profit off.

He saw the good, he saw the bad and from an early age found himself craving the foundation of family. As such, it is impressive, but perhaps not a surprise, that one of the great basketball players of all time also aspires (as best as we can tell and as best as any of us can attempt) to be one of the great fathers of all time.

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Father’s Day is Sunday, but this isn’t just a nice Father’s Day column about someone famous proving that his most important job is the one that starts at home, in this case, raising two boys and one girl with his wife, whom he’s been with since high school.

Fatherhood may also play a role in shaping the NBA in the seasons to come. LeBron is a free agent again this summer, but with his kids getting older, his decision on where to go, if anywhere, is no longer solely about him. It’s about, he says, his family.

“Especially [considering] where my boys are at this point in their age,” LeBron said last week. “They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a preteen and a little girl that wasn’t around [in 2014].”

LeBron’s a fixture in his children’s lives. It’s not just publicly, where he has his boys hang around the locker room or when he cheerily FaceTimes his 3-year old daughter, who can’t always come to games due to bedtime.

You’ll find plenty of cellphone footage and TMZ shots of him at their games or with them at movies or the mall. You’ll find very few of him out at nightclubs. Fatherhood is important to him, especially because he was raised without one.

Bryce, left, and LeBron Jr. listen to their father as he accepts the 2013 NBA MVP award. (AP)

“Just breaking the mode, that’s all,” James told Chris Haynes, then of Cleveland.com, in 2016. “I wanted to be a part of the statistics that breaks the mode of fathers running out on their kids. That was something that I obviously went through. I knew from Day 1 that wasn’t going to be me. So, to have a family and be there for them and be there on a day-to-day basis is important. I know I travel a lot, but I’m a staple in the household and it means a lot to me and I know it means a lot to my kids.”

In 2010, LeBron left Cleveland for Miami to pursue a better opportunity for a championship. (He won two with the Heat.) In 2014, he returned to Ohio to deal with “unfinished business.” (He won one title with the Cavs.)

Now he may leave again because the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t appear capable of defeating the Golden State Warriors, who have annihilated Cleveland in the last two NBA Finals.

That’s where being a father comes in though. And it may be the Cavs’ best – or only – hope to keep LeBron in Cleveland.

This isn’t to say the best plan or even the most fatherly plan is to stay in Cleveland and allow his two boys, LeBron Jr., 13 and Bryce, 10, to remain with their schools, their basketball teams and their friends. The best decision may be to move them elsewhere, perhaps to Los Angeles or Houston or wherever.

That’s up to the Jameses to determine.

Staying is an option, however, under these considerations. The pride LeBron takes in his kids is evident to anyone who has spent a minute around him. And when it comes to LeBron Jr., who has blossomed into a heralded basketball prospect, there is another budding hoops career to consider.

It’s one thing to chase your own dreams. It’s even better to watch your child chase his.

“It’s been a treat to watch, being a parent and seeing my son grow as a basketball player,” LeBron said last week, beaming as a proud dad. “But not only that, being [the] young man who he is today. The kid will be 14 soon. Just seeing him grow and grow and grow to become who he is today has been a treat.”

This is the stuff that has always mattered to him, even if it isn’t what’s on national television or witnessed by fans.

“The best part of fatherhood is seeing your kids in you,” LeBron said in 2016 in that Cleveland.com interview. “The stuff that you used to think you could get away with. The things you thought you were sneaking away with. Now you see your kids trying the same thing and I [am] like, ‘I’ve been there, boy. I know what you’re trying to do. I used to try that. Don’t try to fool me.’

“So that’s a pretty cool thing,” he continued. “Also, just seeing the different personalities from Zhuri, to Bronny, to Bryce. It’s almost like leading a team. You can’t lead them all the same way. They have different personalities even though we’re all growing up in the same household; you have to be able to command them different. That’s a challenge, but it’s pretty cool.”

Now LeBron tries the toughest task of all for every parent: balancing work and family. Do you uproot the family to pursue this opportunity? Or do you stay put? While this decision is being watched by millions, it is also easier than most. LeBron isn’t struggling for a check. There are no bad options. The choice is being made from a position of power, not desperation.

Shed no tears for LeBron. That doesn’t mean it isn’t emotional and personal and that there aren’t consequences, because this is no longer about just his future.

“My family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide,” LeBron said.

As the NBA hangs in the balance, happy Father’s Day to all.

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