Nearly two decades ago, LeBron James was drafted by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. The promising star would go on to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Back in 2002, James tried to declare for the NBA draft before graduating high school. At that time, the Houston Rockets held the first pick in the annual event. Though his petitioning was unsuccessful, it would be interesting to see how King James’ career would’ve changed in this path.
To propose a plausible answer, the tool Basketball GM was used to replicate this scenario. This event causes a vast butterfly effect throughout the rest of the league, becoming more evident with each passing year. For this reason, speculation becomes more apparent from season to season. With that being said, let’s dive into this alternative universe.
LeBron James is drafted by the Houston Rockets. ‘The Chosen One’ joins a starting lineup of Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Kenny Thomas, and Kelvin Cato.
Despite an impressive rookie year, Houston fails to make the playoffs.
Not too much else changes in the league this season. Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs win the NBA championship.
The Rockets’ roster is nearly unchanged in James’ sophomore year. The Ohio native makes his first postseason appearance, as the Rockets hold the number five seed in the West.
They’re eliminated in the first round by a Sacramento Kings core of Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, and Chris Webber.
The 2004 NBA Finals features Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers against Tracy McGrady’s Orlando Magic.
In his third year, LeBron James is still Houston’s only All-Star selectee. The Rockets finish as the sixth seed in the West.
Once again, they are eliminated in the first round by Peja Stojakovic’s Sacramento Kings.
This year’s NBA Finals matchup is between the Detroit Pistons and Phoenix Suns. The Pistons’ lineup includes Chauncy Billups and Ben Wallace. The Suns lineup features Shawn Marion, Stephon Marbury, and Manu Ginobili.
Things start to look more promising for LeBron James.
During the mid-season, Houston successfully trades for Tony Parker. This new dynamic duo of James and Parker take H-Town to a second seed finish in the West.
James makes his first NBA Finals appearance against Jason Kidd’s New Jersey Nets. However, the Nets prevail in this championship series.
James wins his first league MVP.
LeBron James struggles throughout this season, averaging career lows across the board. As a result, Houston fails to make the playoffs.
This year’s NBA Finals series is between the Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls. The Mavericks’ star-studded lineup features Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, and Carmelo Anthony. The Bulls’ lineup features Jamal Crawford, Rashard Lewis, and Luol Deng.
Notable Occurrence: Tim Duncan signs with the New York Knicks during free agency.
James drastically improves his skills, re-establishing his reputation as a top player in the league. However, Houston fails to make the postseason for a second year in a row.
This year’s NBA Finals series is a battle of legends, as Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers face off against Tim Duncan’s New York Knicks. Duncan’s teammates include Tracy McGrady and Rajon Rondo. Bryant’s teammates include Michael Redd and Derek Fisher.
James wins his second league MVP.
The Houston Rockets starting lineup consists of LeBron James, Tony Parker, Bonzi Wells, Rashad McCants, and Zydrunas Ilguaskas. Houston falls short of the number eight seed by a small margin, making this their third consecutive year of missing the playoffs.
This 2009 NBA Finals is a matchup between the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. The Celtics’ core consists of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Paul Pierce, and Shaquille O’Neal. The Timberwolves’ lineup features Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, and Derrick Rose.
James wins his third league MVP.
After a three year drought, Houston squeaks back into the playoffs. However, they are eliminated in the first round by the Utah Jazz.
The 2010 NBA Finals is a rematch between Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks and Jamal Crawford’s Chicago Bulls.
This is an eventful offseason for the Houston Rockets.
During free agency, the Rockets sign Zach Randolph. Also, DeMar Derozan is selected in the NBA Draft. These moves keep LeBron James content in Houston.
The Rockets power their way to a Western Conference Finals matchup against the Golden State Warriors, who boast the dynamic duo of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
Golden State advances to the NBA Finals, facing off against the Boston Celtics. Boston’s core now consists of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Paul Pierce.
This is a monumental season, perhaps the best of LeBron James’ career in this fictional world.
Dirk Nowitzki is traded from the Dallas Mavericks to Houston for Zach Randolph and first round draft picks. Meanwhile, DeMar DeRozan continues to develop at a strong rate.
The Rockets battle their way to an NBA Finals series against the Boston Celtics. This is the third Finals appearance for Boston’s ‘Big Three’.
After over a decade, the Houston Rockets are NBA champions. Also, LeBron James wins his fourth league MVP.
Notable Occurrence: Kobe Bryant signs with his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers, during free agency.
Houston’s starting lineup consists of LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kyle Korver, and Shawn Marion. They finish with the best regular season record in the Western Conference.
Despite being championship favorites, the Rockets are eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals by Dwyane Wade’s Minnesota Timberwolves.
The 2013 NBA Finals is set between Kobe Bryant’s Philadelphia 76ers and the Sacramento Kings. Bryant’s teammates include Ty Lawson and Andrew Bynum. The Kings are led by the dynamic duo of Paul George and Kemba Walker.
This is a historic season for the Rockets.
In addition to finishing with the best record in the league, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, and DeMar DeRozan all earn All-Star selections.
Once again, they face the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook make their fourth Finals appearance.
The Houston Rockets win their fourth NBA championship.
For a second year straight, Houston finishes with the best record in the league.
The Rockets advance to a second consecutive NBA Finals series, this time against the Orlando Magic. The Magic are led by the dynamic duo of Stephen Curry and Jimmy Butler.
Ultimately, Orlando defeats the Rockets.
Although LeBron James and DeMar DeRozan are still in their prime, Nowitzki is regressing in production. Houston finishes as the third seed in the West.
The Rockets are eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by an Oklahoma City Thunder core of Victor Oladipo, Andre Drummond, and Brook Lopez.
This year’s NBA Finals series is between the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers. The Hawks’ core features Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, and Dwyane Wade. The Trail Blazers are led by James Harden and Anthony Davis.
During the offseason, Houston signs Hassan Whiteside to start over a declining Dirk Nowitzki. For the first time since 2009, the Rockets miss the playoffs.
The Atlanta Hawks are back in the NBA Finals. They face off against the Los Angeles Clippers, who are led by Damian Lillard and Blake Griffin.
The Houston Rockets’ starting lineup consists of LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Thaddeus Young, Avery Bradley, and Hassan Whiteside. The addition of various role players, such as Rajon Rondo and Serge Ibaka, give the Rockets solid depth.
This year’s NBA Finals pits the Rockets against Nikola Jokic’s Indiana Pacers. However, Houston loses the championship series.
Notable Occurrence: Stephen Curry signs with the Washington Wizards during free agency.
LeBron James and DeMar DeRozan both struggle in production throughout the season. They are swept in the first round of the playoffs by Paul George and Kemba Walker’s Sacramento Kings.
The Kings advance to the NBA Finals, where they are challenged by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Atlanta Hawks.
Notable Occurrence: Kevin Durant signs with the Denver Nuggets during free agency.
Houston enters the new decade with a starting lineup of LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, George Hill, and Thaddeus Young.
They are eliminated in the Western Conference Semi-Finals by the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets are led by superstars Luka Doncic and Kevin Durant.
Denver advances to the NBA Finals against the Atlanta Hawks. This is Giannis Antetokoumpo’s fourth NBA Finals appearance over the last five years.
Though LeBron James and DeMar DeRozan are still producing at an All-Star level, they are only able to secure the last spot in the play-in. Houston is quickly eliminated from the tournament.
This year’s NBA Finals series is a rematch between Giannis Antetokoumpo’s Atlanta Hawks and Paul George’s Sacramento Kings.
A new era of success is ushered in, as Houston signs Jimmy Butler during free agency.
The trio of James, DeRozan, and Butler mesh well together, finishing with the best record in the league.
Houston advances to the 2022 NBA Finals, in which they face the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers boast a core of Kyrie Irving, Devin Booker, and Joel Embiid.
The Houston Rockets win their fifth NBA championship.
Though it isn’t known at the time, this is the last memorable season for LeBron James.
Houston advances to their second consecutive NBA Finals series, this time against Jayson Tatum’s Brooklyn Nets. Ironically, James’ first and last championship appearances are both against the Nets.
The Houston Rockets are back-to-back NBA champions. This is the sixth title for the franchise.
LeBron James is a little bit over 40 years old, but still averaging over 20 points per game.
The Rockets are eliminated in the Western Conference Semi-Finals by the Utah Jazz, who’s core includes Anthony Edwards, Jarrett Allen, and Jamal Murray.
This year’s NBA Finals series is between the Denver Nuggets and Chicago Bulls. Denver’s core features Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic, and Paolo Banchero. Chicago is led by Ja Morant and Zach LaVine.
LeBron James is reaching the twilight of his career. Meanwhile, DeMar DeRozan becomes Houston’s top scoring option. They manage to secure a spot in the play-in tournament, but are quickly eliminated.
This year’s NBA Finals matchup is between the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards. Phoenix’s lineup includes Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Washington is led by the dynamic duo of Stephen Curry and Jaylen Brown.
For the first time since 2017, the Rockets are unsuccessful in making the postseason. Despite this shortcoming, LeBron James is committed to finishing his career in Houston.
This year’s NBA Finals series is between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz. Chicago’s lineup features Ja Morant and Zach LaVine. Utah’s core includes Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, and Jarrett Allen.
This is the end of LeBron James’ 25 year long career.
Chris Duarte is now the top scoring option on a starting lineup that includes James, Jimmy Butler, Monte Morris, and Cameron Payne. James’ farewell tour ends in mid-April.
This 2027 NBA Finals is set between the Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks. Washington’s core includes Stephen Curry, Jaylen Brown, and Coby White. Dallas’ lineup features Donovan Mitchell, Alperen Sengun, and Tyrese Haliburton.
In this simulation, James retires as a four-time NBA champion (2012, 2014, 2022, 2023) and four-time NBA MVP (2006, 2008, 2009, 2012) as a lifelong Rocket.
League History (League Champion - League MVP)
2003- San Antonio Spurs - Tim Duncan (SAS)
2004- Los Angeles Lakers - Tracy McGrady (ORL)
2005- Detroit Pistons - Dirk Nowitzki (DAL)
2006- New Jersey Nets - LeBron James (HOU)
2007- Dallas Mavericks - Kobe Bryant (LAL)
2008- Los Angeles Lakers - LeBron James (HOU)
2009- Boston Celtics - LeBron James (HOU)
2010- Dallas Mavericks - Kevin Durant (BOS)
2011- Boston Celtics - Kobe Bryant (LAL)
2012- Houston Rockets - LeBron James (HOU)
2013- Philadelphia 76ers - Kevin Durant (BOS)
2014- Houston Rockets - Kevin Durant (BOS)
2015- Orlando Magic - Stephen Curry (ORL)
2016- Atlanta Hawks - Kevin Durant (BOS)
2017- Los Angeles Clippers - Jimmy Butler (ORL)
2018- Indiana Pacers - James Harden (POR)
2019- Sacramento Kings - James Harden (POR)
2020- Atlanta Hawks - Giannis Antetokounmpo (ATL)
2021- Atlanta Hawks - Stephen Curry (WAS)
2022- Houston Rockets - Nikola Jokic (IND)
2023- Houston Rockets - Giannis Antetokounmpo (ATL)
2024- Chicago Bulls - Giannis Antetokounmpo (ATL)
2025- Phoenix Suns - Ja Morant (CHI)
2026- Chicago Bulls - Ja Morant (CHI)
2027- Washington Wizards - Zion Williamson (CLE)