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We’ve Had Mixed Success Predicting LeBron’s Moves

The world is abuzz with the news that LeBron James is opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat. There’s plenty of speculation about what this means and where he might decide to go, if anywhere, but we thought it might be interesting to take a look at our own history of guessing James’s future. Here’s a roundup of predictions that we’ve made, and how accurate they turned out to be:

  • The last time James opted out of his contract was in 2010, when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers and signed with the Miami Heat, joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh there. Before he announced that decision, we analyzed his value as a player, as well as the different options available to him, and tried to determine the best route for him to take with regard to his personal brand. We decided he’d be best off trying to both win a championship and do so in a way that would be perceived as overcoming a challenge. We doubted that “forming a ‘dream team’ with Wade and Bosh in Miami would do that much for him,” so it was most likely that he would stay with Cleveland or join the Knicks, while Wade and Bosh would stick together in either Chicago or Miami.
  • We were partially right — Wade and Bosh did show solidarity in a move to Miami. But we were wrong in predicting James’s decision. In a follow-up piece, we further evaluated the merits of James joining the Heat. There was a major hit to his popularity because of the way he announced the decision and because of Miami’s relatively small fan base. We argued this could have reduced his earning potential by $150 million. We conceded that “James may able to redeem himself through athletic success,” which turned out to be the case: He made $42 million from endorsements in 2013, which dwarfs the $28 million he made in 2009 when he was with Cleveland.
  • Our most recent take on James was last summer, after the Heat won their second consecutive NBA championship. We looked at the odds of James catching up to Michael Jordan’s six championship wins, the most in the salary-cap era (since 1984-85). We put the odds of the Heat winning the 2014 championship at about 33 percent, with the chances getting lower each subsequent year. So given this year’s loss, James might be making a smart move with his current opt-out. But given James’s win shares, we put his odds at winning a championship — regardless of the team — at about 20 or 25 percent.

Hayley Munguia is a former social media editor and a data reporter for FiveThirtyEight.

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