LeBron James’ Love Ruins New York’s Hoop Dream: Scott Soshnick
LeBron James delivered an almost- perfect Most Valuable Player acceptance speech.
He took one question too many, gave one answer too many. Loose lips. It was a sad day for fans of National Basketball Association intrigue and drama. There’s none left. Not anymore.
The man who months ago went mute on all things free agency, the supernova who said he was done talking about tomorrow, tipped his hand with his tongue. With six words, just six, James torpedoed the tension. Not to mention the hopes of several franchises, including the please-take-our-money New York Knicks, who you can bet are planning the mother of all sales pitches come July 1, when NBA teams can begin wooing free agents.
The Knicks can promise the world. Only James already has it. You should’ve been at the Olympics in Beijing, where admirers of all ages practically genuflected at the sight of King James.
The Knicks can promise the big stage; James owns it. The Knicks can promise fawning celebrities; James already has them, including the Yankees, many of whom showed up in Cleveland last season for a playoff game.
Won’t matter. None of it, even though James has tantalized with talk of future homes and what-might-be.
James, a native of Akron, Ohio, held his MVP acceptance speech at the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena, where what seemed like the whole town lined up to celebrate its favorite son.
One questioner wondered, why there? Most MVPs, it was pointed out, celebrate with teammates and family members. It’s usually an intimate gathering.
James opted for an open house. Demanded it. This was supposed to be about one man, James, who instead made it about everyone else. He made it about his teammates, whom he summoned to join him on the dais. He made it about his mother, Gloria, who, starting at 16 and single, somehow managed to raise a son with real-world sensibilities. He made it about his sons, LeBron Jr. and Bryce, for whom he wants to set a good example. On the court and off.
And -- pay attention New York -- he made it about the throaty throng in the stands. He made it about making it. He made it about sending messages to the kids who dream big even though home is public housing.
So back to the question -- Why stage the press conference at that arena? Why make it open to the public? Here’s why, in six words:
“I’m just a kid from Akron,” James said.
Between the Lines
The man who wanted to say nothing about his basketball future had said a lot.
“This is home for me. I love this place to death,” the back-to-back MVP said, no doubt to the chagrin of Knicks President Donnie Walsh, who ought to be working on Plans B and C right about now. “I’m not just carrying myself but I’m also carrying this city to bigger and better heights.”
The message was clear.
Besides, ask yourself this: In a global marketplace where Nike Inc. creates icons, and in a world of basketball without borders, who needs whom? Do the Knicks need James, or does James need whatever New York has to offer? And I’m a native New Yorker.
Maybe 20 years ago you could make an argument for James needing to play in the No. 1 media market. Nowadays, however, thanks to online hype, and Skype, Madison Avenue travels. Even to Cleveland, where, it’s worth noting, they have a pretty darn good basketball team, the Cavaliers, who held a 1-0 lead over the Boston Celtics heading into last night’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
No matter what happens to the Cavaliers, whether they emerge from these playoffs as champs or chumps, James ain’t leaving.
He isn’t interested in Broadway this or Big Apple that. That will be some other player’s ego trip. Maybe even Dwyane Wade, who is really good. Or Chris Bosh.
No player out there is comparable to James, an athletic freak of nature who has the fame and game to alter the fortunes of even the most downtrodden franchise. That’s why ESPN’s New York-related website created what it calls a “LeBron Watch” section that includes a countdown clock to free agency.
Unfortunately for Knicks fans, all that cable television money doesn’t mean a thing.
This isn’t baseball and these aren’t the Yankees, who can shower free agents with a vault-draining contract offer.
The NBA would prefer that its stars stay put. As such, the rules dictate the Cavaliers have the right to offer James more money and a longer contract than any other team.
So, in essence, this is going to come down to intangibles.
There’s that famous cover of the New Yorker magazine that depicts how residents feel about their town: there’s New York City, and there’s every inconsequential place else.
James says he loves his teammates. Loves Cleveland, too.
Never before has an athlete said so much while refusing to comment.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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