LeBron James seriously considered signing with the Sixers in free agency before deciding to join the Lakers, he told ESPN's Rachel Nichols.
But ultimately, the allure of trying to bring a historically great franchise like the Lakers back to the top drew him to Los Angeles.
Nichols asked James why he chose the Lakers over "going to a team that was closer to winning a championship now." Here's his full response:
I definitely thought long and hard about the possibilities of lining up alongside Ben [Simmons] and [Joel] Embiid, or lining up alongside [James] Harden and Chris [Paul]. I felt like at this point in my career, the ultimate for me — just like when I went to Miami, everyone kind of looks at me joining a super team. I think Miami was [47-35] the year before I joined the team. You look at the Lakers’ record. So I like the challenge of being able to help a team get to some places they haven’t been in a while, and obviously the Lakers haven’t made the playoffs in a few years, but the Lakers’ organization and historical franchise matches up there with all the greats. You can look at the Cowboys, you can look at the Patriots, you can look at Manchester United, the Boston Celtics — these are like historical franchises, and for me to be a part of that, it’s a great moment for not only me but also my family, and the history of basketball in general.
There's a lot to break down there. First of all, it's noteworthy that Simmons and Embiid are the first two names James mentioned. It's an indication that the Sixers were, indeed, serious contenders.
James' response also acknowledges that he sees the Sixers as close to winning a championship, and he's aware he could have immediately boosted their chances of a title.
It's also clear that building up a lesser team and joining a "historical franchise" were two things James highly valued. While that makes sense, it's odd to think that the Sixers might have been a more attractive destination for James if they were still in the earlier stages of "The Process." And, if James likes "the challenge of being able to help a team get to some places they haven’t been in a while," that absolutely would have been there with the Sixers, who haven't made the Finals since 2001 and last won it all in 1983.
James' examples of "historical franchises" definitely wouldn't be teams on any Philadelphia sports fan's list ... the Cowboys, Patriots and Celtics are not exactly the most loved teams in this city.
But for James, joining a team with a prestigious past was important. While the idea of playing with young stars like Simmons and Embiid was attractive to him, the Sixers just didn't meet all his criteria.