On a day when Sports Illustrated publishes a cover story about LeBron James’s quest to chase Michael Jordan’s ghost, it’s fitting that news would surface of Jordan trolling LeBron at a youth basketball camp by publicly asserting that Blake freaking Griffin should star in the long-rumored Space Jam sequel. Jordan has always struggled to conceal his contempt for LeBron, and LeBron has made no secret about his desire to eclipse Jordan’s six championships. But it’s 2016, and ghostbusting isn’t nearly as lucrative as it used to be. If LeBron chases Jordan’s ghost too closely, his timeline might start looking a little something like this:
October 2016: Upon realizing that the Cavs’ historic 2016 title will be impossible to top, LeBron announces his retirement from the NBA to play a different sport. Although he considers joining forces with Liverpool — he is, after all, a minority owner of the English soccer club — he ultimately decides to return to the gridiron with the Cleveland Browns:
March 2018: Even LeBron can’t reverse the fortunes of the woeful Browns, and he returns to the Cavs less than two years later. One problem: Cleveland retired no. 23 in his absence, so he’s forced to rock no. 6 again. Unlike Drake, he’s no 6 God, and the Cavs lose in the second round of the playoffs to a Magic team led by Bismack Biyombo.
2019–2021: The King wins three titles (none of which compare to his first in Cleveland), but rumors start to circulate about a possible gambling problem, culminating in one popular myth: One time at a sushi restaurant, LeBron bet his teammates on the specific types of sushi that would freshly arrive through the rotating conveyor belt, and won (unbeknownst to his team, he’d bribed the chefs hours before). LeBron starts gambling on everything, and retires again to focus on his fledgling blackjack career.
2024: After getting cut from MIT’s card-counting team, LeBron makes another hoops comeback with an irrelevant, recently renamed franchise. This one doesn’t go so hot, and everyone agrees to whitewash it from the history books. He then attempts to transition to a role in the team’s front office, but fails spectacularly, largely due to his tendency to spend more time puffing cigars on the golf course than preparing for the draft. He makes cool sneakers, though, so basketball fans once again shrug their collective shoulders and pretend this chapter of his life never happened.
2030: LeBron purchases his hometown Cavs from Dan Gilbert and, for some inexplicable reason, decides to hire an 89-year-old Larry Brown as head coach, despite Brown’s well-earned reputation as a coaching vagabond (and, y’know, the fact that he’s almost 90). Brown lasts just over two seasons in Cleveland.
2037: At 53, LeBron starts feeling the effects of old age, and there’s only one place where he can still dominate on the hardwood: youth basketball camps. The level of competition isn’t much lower than the Eastern Conference circa 2016, and LeBron feels like his old, cutthroat self. He devotes his summers to crushing the hopes and dreams of American children who just want a free pair of kicks:
2038: An old image of LeBron crying somehow morphs into the biggest meme in online history, reaching a level of ubiquity not seen since 2016. LeBron promptly lashes out at the internet, and is luckily saved by WNBA star Riley Curry’s critically panned signature sneakers, which overtake Crying LeBron as the web’s shorthand for taking an L.
August 2039: When asked who should star in the much-anticipated Space Jam 3, LeBron offers up an absurd take, making him the butt of the sports internet’s jokes.