LeBron James didn’t really need to be pitched anything. For the most part, it seems like he already knew everything there was to know about the Lakers when he met with Magic Johnson the minute after free agency began July 1.
A television interview with Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka that aired on Spectrum in Los Angeles revealed part of the sometimes awkward dance surrounding James’ free agency. The Lakers had prepared for those meetings for “four, five or six months.”
The team was so eager to get James that Johnson was an hour early to the meeting and sat in his car waiting until it started.
“LeBron is just one of the smartest basketball players I’ve ever met, along with Kobe and Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, those type of dudes who … it wasn’t to sell the Lakers … he didn’t [need] to hear that. He already knew the team. Almost better than I did. He broke the roster down right in front of me,” Johnson said.
“We’d been going through so many scenarios, also meeting with Jeanie [Buss], talking about what we thought would be important. Then I just was supposed to be there at 9:01 so I got there at 8:01, so I was going to sit out there for an hour until it was time to go up to his home.”
The preparations also included head coach Luke Walton, who came up with a traditional pitch for the superstar, according to ESPN.com. But this free agency, James was always said to prefer fewer pitches. This time, it was about what he wanted to do for his career and what was best for his family.
After all, he’s had a unique advantage and look at the NBA as one of its top players for the past 15 years.
“It’s like, f–k, LeBron doesn’t want to sit there and listen to, ‘Here’s what we can do with you,’” Walton said to ESPN.com.
And the night after free agency began, just before his family was about to host a barbecue in his Manhattan Beach backyard, Walton’s phone started to ring. That was when word got out that James had picked the Lakers, ESPN.com reported.
“I think I spent the next eight-and-a-half hours on the telephone. Missed my whole Sunday family barbecue,” he said. “Missed the corn hole. The kids were already asleep by the time I got done taking calls.”
Walton talked to James just before he left with his family to a vacation in Italy. But the calls Walton received also came from all over the NBA community.
Kobe Bryant called to tell Walton how James would want to be coached. Erik Spoelstra called with advice about keeping James in the loop.
Walton had even talked with Tyron Lue, James’ last coach with the Cavaliers, who was just finishing up a family reunion in Las Vegas when he found out the news that James was heading to the Western Conference.
For all the hoopla surrounding James’ free agency, both his camp and the Lakers were able to keep his meeting with Johnson a secret.
“I didn’t know,” Walton told the Las Vegas Review-Journal during a summer league interview. “I was excited. I saw him the next morning and he told me where he was. I know Magic, and I know he’s good at closing deals.”
Since agreeing to join the Lakers, James is said to have had a word in who the team has gone after in free agency. James pointed the Lakers toward Rajon Rondo and he helped the Lakers nab his own former provocateur, Lance Stephenson.
But the thing James seems to be most excited about is working with the young players already on the Lakers’ roster. Johnson said he entered the meeting already knowing their mindsets and hopes he’ll raise their skill set.
“He mentions to his agent or his assistant, ‘Such and such is going to be at the gym at six in the morning, right? That’s when I’m going to start my workout,’” Pelinka said. “So you realize, that’s just who he is. First day back, he just had flown in, 6 a.m., ‘I’m going to get after it tomorrow.’”