The only game LeBron James didn’t start in his entire NBA career
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The only game LeBron James didn’t start in his entire NBA career

Ben Simmons returned to Philly and rejoined the team after clearing COVID protocols. After the awkward moment Doc Rivers had to manage at practice, the next elephant in the room is still the main question on everyone’s mind – will we see Simmons in a 76ers jersey? If that happens, particularly in Philadelphia, it would be ugly. The only person that could help in that scenario is Joel Embiid, and he has an example from 2007 to look up to.

Anderson Varejao started his NBA career in 2004, which made him a restricted free agent in 2007. The Cavs offered him a $1.2 million qualifying offer which Varejao turned down. His agent, Dan Fegan, came back to the team with a counter-offer of 52 million for six years. The Cavs turned them down, and with such a wide gap between the two sides, a holdout started.

Varejao wasn’t an NBA star, but this was a big deal. First of all, it had league-wide implications on how much money can RFAs get via holdout. But it was equally crucial for the Cavs. This was LeBron‘s fifth year in the league, and there was a lot of pressure on the Cavs to surround James with a championship-caliber roster. Cleveland felt Varejao’s absence on the court, so this holdout also had LeBron implications. Not getting a deal done could impact LeBron’s Decision to stay in Cleveland once his contract was up.

After a protracted battle that went into December, Varejao received a three-year offer from the Charlotte Bobcats, which the Cavs matched. More specifically, it was a two-year $11.1 million offer sheet with a player option for a third year at $6.2 million. With the Cavs losing their last six games, the signature couldn’t come at a better time – Cleveland needed Varejao. The Cavs matched the offer and locked up Varejao for the next couple of years.

The NBA landscape was much different back then. Player empowerment was nowhere in sight, and there was much less understanding for players fighting for their money. Cleveland fans were furious, and Varejao knew he couldn’t expect a warm welcome back from the home crowd. Then, LeBron James stepped in. It was December 11th, 2007 and the Pacers were in Cleveland. LeBron had been out with an injury for several games, and his first game back from injury was Varejao’s first game back after the holdout.

They knew Varejao was gonna get booed. It was LeBron’s idea from what I understand – Mike Brown brought LeBron from the bench. We were surprised because LeBron had missed some games due to injury [and always came back as a starter]. The first time out, Varejao comes to the scorer’s table, and LeBron comes with him. LeBron came into the game with Varejao by design, so that Andy wouldn’t get booed.

Brian Windhorst, The Hoop Collective

LeBron James played 1310 games in the NBA, and he started 1309 of them. He sacrificed a perfect record to protect his teammate from getting booed after fighting to get the best contract possible for himself. Now, there are a lot of differences between this and the situation in Philly. Varejao was a beloved teammate and had the full support of the locker room. Simmons is obviously in a different position.

But if Embiid is the leader he says he wants to be, every franchise cornerstone on a championship team has some part-time GM duties. The best outcome possible for the Sixers is for Simmons to play and play well – that’s how they get a trade that keeps them in the Finals conversation. For that to happen, Embiid has to pull his version of LeBron’s 2007 gesture. Use his popularity and standing with the fans to shield his teammate and help the team move on.

Kudos to LeBron for that move. Love him or dislike him, one thing is for sure – LeBron really did all he could in his first stint with the Cavs to create a championship organization. The Decision was poorly executed, but the decision is perfectly understandable. All that matters is that James kept his promise in the end.