LeBron James may have never played for the Cleveland Cavaliers if he went to college for one year.
It doesn’t matter what team drafted LeBron James, he was always destined for greatness. But what would be different about his career if he went to college?
Let’s just get this out of the way, LeBron would have been a Duke Blue Devil if he was forced to go to college based on NBA rules. While his love for Ohio State University knows no bounds, there is no way he passes up an opportunity to play for his favorite coach in existence while potentially adding another championship banner to the rafters in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Playing at Duke for a year means that he would have been drafted a year later, and to a different team: The Orlando Magic. A quick dive into what the Magic had going on at the time shows that LeBron would have been in a better situation immediately, with players like Grant Hill, Steve Francis and Jameer Nelson surrounding him.
There’s a chance Orlando could’ve squeaked into the playoffs with a young LeBron, but they don’t really make any noise until 2010. This is the year that changes everything.
The 2010 Orlando Magic team won 59 games led by Dwight Howard, with a still spry Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range and a loaded bench. Orlando made it all the way to Eastern Conference Finals before running into the three-headed monster of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
Swap out Howard for LeBron and NBA fans would have gotten the dream Finals matchup they always wanted, LeBron vs. Kobe.
In the following years, with LeBron in Orlando he could have attracted a number of free agents to team up with him in Florida. It might not be as attractive as Miami, but a lot of the same appeal is still there. Beaches, palm trees, sunshine, still the same wherever you go in Florida. Maybe the Magic win a title or two, but eventually LeBron leaves Orlando in search of a bigger stage. A place where he can cement his legacy.
That place is Los Angeles.
Remember, the only reason LeBron travelled back to Cleveland is because he had “unfinished business” from his first stint, and because he most definitely felt bad for announcing on national television that he was skipping town for Miami. LeBron wanted to right the wrong of that moment, but without that pull of going back to Cleveland there would be no reason for him to put on a Cavaliers jersey.
Following in the footsteps of Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron would have gone straight from Orlando to the Los Angeles Lakers to carry the torch after Kobe Bryant retires.
So then what does that mean for Cleveland? Without LeBron to put the entire city on his back the Cavaliers would still have the longest active championship drought in sports history, there would be no parade through downtown, and they would still be seeking a savior to lift Cleveland sports out of the depths of despair.