The Getting LeBron James Debate… A Big Apple Shaped King’s Crown

June 30, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Living near Cleveland, and near LeBron James’ hometown of Akron, allow me to go on the record and say that I am disgusted with LeBron James.

I have written several pieces on LeBron throughout the last NBA season and post-season. I have also done several radio appearances where I genuinely voice dismay at James’ decision-making. It has become apparent to me now, on the eve of “The Decision” or “The Meetings” or whatever dumb name ESPN will slap on it, that LeBron James will respond to the strongest pitch he receives – and that pitch will come from the New York Knicks.

The Knicks essentially have to overcome two nuanced but primary advantages over LeBron’s stated frontrunner, the Cavaliers.

First, the hometown effect. I could bore everyone by stating the obvious advantages of living in New York versus living in Cleveland, but I think we all get that. Of course, LeBron does have strong ties to northeast Ohio, and those cannot be dismissed. But New York offers tremendous advantages that start with an unparalleled nightlife and an endless stream of admirers with the business opportunities LeBron covets. Sure the hometown is important, and I am sure the Knicks would allow for relocation for his entire family to New York in a few swanky downtown lofts… complete with Jay-Z rapping something about how home is where the heart is. New York has an edge here, if the reps play the diplomacy game properly. And I am sure they will.

Second, we all know that economics play a factor here. While it is true the Cavs can offer LeBron the most money, what is often left on the editing floor of virtually every story published on the subject is that Cleveland can only win the money game if LeBron were to sign a long term – six year – contract.

Since business thinking is driving this entire enterprise right now, I highly doubt that LeBron will sign a six year deal, no matter where he signs. That would mean he would be ineligible for free agency until he is 31-years old. We all know why this is such a big decision… because LeBron will play his prime years under the next deal. But it is just bad business to sign a six year deal. A three year deal means he can get max money from anywhere – the same amount. That neutralizes any Cavs financial advantage.

New York representatives can easily overcome any Cleveland advantage with a well crafted pitch. New York cannot be Cleveland or Akron, but it can host the people that make LeBron feel at home. New York cannot offer as much money, but it can offer the same amount of money – and a very enticing world where business and pleasure off the court are easily accomplished. New York also offers a connection to basketball’s history that is an X factor for a guy like LeBron who really does care about, and have respect for, the history of the game.

New York also has enough money to add at least one more high priced free agent, and likely another mid-level talent. New York sure has a lot of roster holes – a fact the brass does not back away from – but it sure has the space to make some key additions. LeBron and Joe Johnson, and one more talented player, is plenty of firepower. It is enough to remind us all of a move Boston made a few years ago. Should the New York representatives include that model in their presentation, it is hard to argue with the success.

Plus, if New York does not get LeBron, they will get some other big free agents. LeBron would have to choose to join them, or fight against them every chance he gets. I am guessing the New York brass may bring that up, depending on how the pitch interaction goes.

In a recent radio appearance I told ESPN radio’s insightful and entertaining Matt McClusky that LeBron had a decision to make between becoming a championship professional basketball player and becoming a global business and marketing icon. I wrote an article for The Sports Debates about LeBron choosing to remain in Cleveland, and that if he did, he would be choosing a real shot at a championship.

Choosing New York as his destination means choosing his business ambitions over basketball – and all of the distractions that come with it. While Michael Jordan won first and then began closing business deals, LeBron’s business ambition outpaces everything else. Whether it is selfishness or greed or both, neither is part of the formula for winning a championship.

So while I go on the record yet again stating that New York is the wrong choice for LeBron, I firmly intend to eat crow tomorrow on that statement. I expect LeBron to choose New York over Cleveland, to choose business over authentic, championship success. And while a chorus of “good riddance” rises from Akron, Ohio, New York is getting an incredibly talented, incredibly selfish basketball player that will tease fans with close calls – but never deliver when it counts. Cleveland has suffered enough on those types of outcomes.

To LeBron, I offer just one piece of advice – bring earplugs when you return to The Q… and when you return home for Thanksgiving.

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