ESPN’s Chris Broussard tweeted Tuesday morning that LeBron James would opt out of the final year of his contract with the Heat, and James’ agent notified the team of the star’s intentions to become a free agent. It was 8:23 a.m.
Then the clock struck bedlam.
Twitter’s trends tracked the undulating narrative of James-based conversation over the rest of Tuesday morning. “Miami,” “LeBron and Carmelo,” “Cleveland,” and “Lakers” all reached the United States’ top 10 as fans discussed where the four-time NBA MVP might play next season and who might play with him.
Twitter is the rare place where hopes and jokes are given the same space as updates and reports. Tuesday morning, the former ruled. NBA teams cannot talk about free agents until July 1, and NBA players were largely quiet as well, leaving the forum to everyone else.
Cleveland fans dug up LeBron quotes from two years ago that might have hinted at a return to his home state. They debated taking him back and wondered what other superstars they could add to the roster. It was a collection of wishes built on top of speculation perched on hope — the certain result of personnel-related uncertainty.
Other fan bases chimed in too. Soon, altered images of James in each of the NBA’s 30 jerseys ricocheted around. James showed up alongside Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant, all wearing purple and gold. He appeared with Kevin Love in Bulls red.
A post on SBNation’s Knicks blog gained traction with a simple headline, “No.” The article included a picture of James and just three words: “It’s not happening.” That dose of pessimism received more than 200 comments in three hours.
Even U.S. Soccer’s official national team account got involved with a tweet to LeBron: “Hey @KingJames! Heard you're opting out?? We've got a new team for you” along with a picture of James’ name and his No. 6 on the back of a U.S. soccer jersey.
The impulse for humor quickly grabbed the reigns of discussion.
The NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes tweeted, “ @KingJames You know, you'd be 6'10" on skates... #justsaying.” Others joked about LeBron joining the Cleveland Browns, or, if he really only cared about winning, the Harlem Globetrotters.
There was plenty of criticism for LeBron too, but that was nothing new. Some compared James’ decision to Tim Duncan’s announcement Monday that he was opting into the final year of his contract for $10.3 million.
Miami fans drew praise from some writers for their rationality. Maybe fans believed James’ decision could help the Heat if he resigns long-term or for less money. Or maybe they were just bracing for more news flare-ups and discussion plumes over the coming weeks.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have yet to announce whether they will opt into the final year of thier contracts. James has not made clear what his plans are going forward.
All James’ announcement Tuesday means is that there will be another, bigger announcement to come this offseason. All the reaction Tuesday morning showed is that fans will be ready with their reactions and memes, criticism and jokes.