Relax, Knick fans, this one is in the bag. Move over Frank White. Get ready for the coronation of the new King of New York this summer.
To me it seems almost like yesterday. Actually it’s almost a full decade now. This is where it started.
He was a high-school sophomore, and Slam Magazine (the best sports magazine in the world, IMHO) put him on the cover and declared him the greatest high-school player ever. About to rule the world. Sports Illustrated soon followed, then ESPN started showing his high school games, and we all know the rest. But this is where it started.
Right now Lebron James is by anyones definition, either the best or second best player in the NBA. He was more hyped than any amateur in any sport before being drafted, and he has done the impossible-he has surpassed the hype. Before all is said and done, he very well may go down as the best player who’s ever lived. But before all of that, he is also doing something that has never been done before.
He is simultaneously running two different franchises.
Lebron James is under contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers until July 1st 2010. He has refused to sign an extension prior to that time. Meanwhile, the biggest market in the world has a team with no superstars, no future stars and no 1st round draft pick. What it does have however is money to spend.
For the last two years, both franchises have been making moves with the same goal in mind-to get Lebron’s signature on a contract come July 2010. Cleveland has brought in complimentary players to stay competitive-Joe Smith, Wally Szczerbiack, Delonte West, Mo Williams, Ben Wallace & Shaquille O’Neal. All to show the earnestness of their desire to keep the King happy.
The Knicks? all they’ve done is tank the last two seasons, clearing out bloated contracts and cobbling together a bunch of spare parts to stay entertaining if not winning. Their game plan has been to have the most money available come July 1st to sign James plus 1.
There are a lot of people who don’t think Lebron will want to sign with New York. They think that because of all the moves the Cavs have made, moves that have taken them to the finals one year and the conference finals last year, Lebron will not want to leave a championship caliber team to a rebuilding team. Those people also think that Lebron is loyal to Ohio-he’s born in Akron and has a stated desire to bring the first NBA title to his state.
I think Lebron James coming to New York is a done deal. Cleveland may win a NBA title this year, and they may not. At the end of the season, I don’t think it will matter. Lebron will say all the right things, smile for the cameras and sign on to play basketball for the New York Knicks.
Why am I so sure? Well for a few reasons. First off, its in the benefit of everyone; the players, the media, David Stern, the owners, to have a competitive team in the biggest media market. Cleveland is not a big media market, and as great a player as he is, he James cannot make it a big market. Second, Lebron knows that while the Cavs may be competitive now, getting top flight free agents to sign on in Cleveland will be a constant uphill battle. He may win one title this year, but what happens next year? Three years from now?
In addition though, the options for him are limited. Lebron can’t go to Miami-they already have Wade and that would make him second fiddle. The King is no second fiddle. New Jersey is a dark horse option that could be a real player if only they had a stadium. Chicago? No superstar wants to play in the shadow of Jordan. The only real option besides Cleveland is New York, and James knows that.
Every great player, indeed every king, needs a suitable kingdom. Remember 1996? Kobe Bryant was the 13th pick by Charlotte. His agent told the team it was never going to happen; Kobe was going to play for the Lakers or not play at all. A trade was made and the rest is history. Could he have been a great player for Charlotte? Probably, but he also wouldn’t be the player we know now if he did. He and his people realized that and they held out for LA.
Larry Bird went to Boston and became Larry Legend, Magic Johnson in LA and of course, Jordan in Chicago. These players in their prime were all comparable to Lebron, but none had the biggest stage of them all as a home court. You wonder why Tim Duncan has three rings and no one outside of real basketball fans know him? Because he plays in San Antonio.
When you win a title in Cleveland, you get a parade. When you win in New York, you get Jay-Z and Alicia Keys serenading you in front of millions on a float down Broadway. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiryjGi6wZQ
The only real option for Lebron come July 2010 is New York. They need him, but believe me, he needs them just as much if not more. The King of Cleveland will never be the truly global icon he desires to be without being in a major market. Yes, he’s already a big star, but imagine how much bigger he would be as the centerpiece of the NY Knicks? Knicks vs. Lakers in the 2011 NBA finals, Kobe vs. Lebron, NY vs Los Angeles. Just think about how huge that would be.