LeBron James is arguably the best basketball player on the planet. “King James” is also 26-years-old, handsome, articulate, marketable, and just downright, slap-your-momma cool. His body is a genetic wonder, perfectly designed to play basketball as well as anyone in history. He grew up in Akron, Ohio, and has played in nearby Cleveland for the first seven years of his already-celebrated career, averaging an absurd (for this time period) 27.8 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game.
No athlete of James’ caliber means as much to a city as he does to Cleveland. The cold, shrinking community is home to some of the most depressing teams in sports: the Browns (NFL), Indians (MLB), and Cavs (NBA). LeBron’s very presence and ability virtually guaranteed them that their championship drought might soon come to an end. All he needs is a cohesive and able supporting cast, capable coaching, and time.
But LeBron might be leaving.
James’ contract with Cleveland has expired, and teams across the league have been awaiting the moment for at least two years. The New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, Chicago Bulls, and Miami Heat have all cleared salary cap space for King James, and all will be competing for his interest this off-season.
His options break down this way:
1. Chicago (The Winning Option) – James would be immediately be surrounded by an exceptional core of young, talented players, including Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, and Luol Deng. Simply put, Chicago seemingly gives James his best bet at winning a championship in 2011. Of course, comparisons with another number 23 would intensify, but if James is most concerned with winning, it would be easiest wearing black and red.
2. New York (The Fame Option) – None of the previously mentioned teams have been as bold as the Big Apple in their determination to win the Summer of 2010 sweepstakes. The Knicks are a team with a proud history, but have been unable to win a championship since 1973; LeBron is believed to be capable of changing their history.
Side note: the Knicks are my most hated team in the NBA. I blame their fans.
3. New Jersey (The Stupid Option) – The Nets are moving to Brooklyn (and might even change their nickname). Having recently bought by a bizarre Russian billionaire, the Nets have plenty of cap space for LeBron, but they play second fiddle in the region, and offer little more than a “New York Lite” option. Don’t bite, LeBron. Forget what Rocky IV tried to teach you; in real life you can’t trust the Russians. Ever.
4. Miami (The Buddy Option) – Dwyane Wade loves Miami. Miami loves D-Wade. D-Wade loves LeBron. LeBron loves D-Wade. Miami wants LeBron. Does LeBron want Miami? Will Smith thinks so, but I think it’s best if the two superstars maintain a long-distance relationship. They’d just get in each other’s way.
5. Cleveland (The Loyal Option) – If LeBron wins in New York, he’ll be New York’s most recent hero. If he wins in Chicago, he’ll still pale in comparison to MJ unless he wins as many titles. If he wins in Miami, the city will barely notice. If he wins in Cleveland, he’ll be the most popular Ohioan in history, period.
His birthday would become an official state holiday. Parents across the state will name their boys “LeBron” for the next 25 years. People would collapse in the streets with tears of joy running down their cheeks.
But it would symbolize something greater than a win: it would say “our favorite son was born here, grew up here, lived here, played here, rejected the fame and adoration of the larger cities, and brought us what we’ve painfully desired for years: a championship. He is one of us!”
People desire money, comfort, and adoration, but they respect loyalty. LeBron is already the most marketable figure in the game of basketball, but a move to New York (or to a lesser extent, Chicago) would ensure even greater financial opportunities. To deny the allure of the Big Apple would be to deny the power of his own ego.
Woodrow Wilson said, “Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.” To resist the pull of New York and Chicago and instead remain committed to bringing Cleveland a championship would be the most selfless and loyal act that the sporting world has seen in many years.
Everyone respects loyalty.
LeBron: stay home, push yourself further to win, and retire happy as Cleveland’s eternal hero.