When I started this site way back in early 2009, I had an unwritten rule that LeBron’s 2010 destination was not going to be a topic of discussion on this site. At all. It’s just an overplayed story, and besides it’s not the favorite subject of Cavs fans. And there’s way too many important things that are going to happen with this team in the next two years to waste time speculating something two years down the road thatNOBODY HAS ANY IDEA ABOUT.
But LeBron goes to New York this Wednesday, and Henry asked me to respond to his angry-making horn pointed in the general direction of Cleveland, and of course I’m thrilled to help him out.
1. Why Is This Such A Story?
This is the first thing that’s important to understand. Calling whatever sportswriter or writer who says LeBron is leaving misinformed or worse isn’t going to make LeBron any more likely to stay. This is something that could happen. Even if he ends up staying, this is something that could happen. If you claim to know different, you are lying, arrogant, or LeBron James, and I’m not sure the latter category knows. There is a very real possibility.
And wasting internet space on the “hey, this 2010 stuff is useless, I can’t believe everyone is going so crazy over it,” is not only more tedious to read than a 2010 article, but is also completely wrong, because this is a story. (To be clear: the opening paragraph only exists because this post exists, if that makes sense. It’s 5 in the morning. I think it’s a story, just not my story.)
So why is this such a story? Understand this about sportswriters: they love a narrative. They go gaga over a good narrative. Cause and Effect makes their day. You report on games. You write a narrative. Sports love to piss sportswriters off by unfolding in such a way that defies narratives. In the Super Bowl, the heroic underdog led by an age-defying quarterback trying to redeem himself from one huge mistake took the lead with the breakout star of the playoffs breaking off a huge catch as his sportswriter father watched for a game-breaking score to cap the biggest comeback in Super Bowl History. Then a quarterback two years removed from a ring who rides motorcycles with his helmet off hit a speedy little-known receiver for a huge game, and he promptly began celebrating the catch with the clock running so that the Steelers needed to burn their last time-out before making another amazing catch to win the Steelers the game. Sports care not for your narratives.
We love Kobe’s rise, fall, and redemption until his team wets the bed against a team of mercenaries in their first year together wearing hallowed laundry.
Well, what you have with LeBron James is a narrative. Whether it’s a positive narrative (young uber-talent gets close to breaking through in small Cleveland, comes to New York, saves the sorry state of basketball in the game’s Mecca and beating heart and wins multiple championships, jumps from greatness to true immortality) or the negative narrative (home and team that does all for him mean nothing to cold-hearted young capitalist, leaves all behind for bright lights and is crushed under weight of own hubris), what we have here is a bona fide narrative. And you don’t even have to rely on the outcome of those pesky games to get a narrative! It’s going to be right there in a press conference!
This is a sexy story. There’s maybe the biggest star in sports, and certainly the biggest with any mystery as to his destiny yet. There’s New York and his hometown. There’s lots of money. There’s a shocking athlete. There’s Nike. There’s Jay-Z, for the love of God. (By the way, these stories have died now that Brooklyn fell through, but there was nothing a little racist about assuming LBJ was going to Brookly regardless of his family, the money, or the basketball, because of how deeply he revered the opinion of his one good friend who’s also a famous rapper? Really?)
There’s a lot of juice in this story and will continue to be, so long as you don’t print the truth, which is “I’m a writer and do not know LeBron James in any significant manner and have nothing resembling a clue what he will do in 2010.” That’s not such a fun story.
And remember, LeBron loves this stuff. He’s narrative-conscious. It’s part of what makes him good. Just like he feels it when the pressure’s on and he needs to do something spectacular to get the Cavaliers to victory and never shys away from bringing out his best in the biggest games and thrives despite being the most hyped player of all time, not to mention 18-year old, that’s the LeBron that loves seeing the New York Times going wild over a Yankee Logo Henna Tatooed on his cheek. Part of what we love about LeBron is what’s going to help us go crazy over this. (Actually, the tatoo thing would probably be the single best prank ever.)
2. Let’s Do Our Best To Figure It Out
To Start: I’m a writer and have had exactly one exchange with LeBron in my life during a pre-game Q+A session. One Q, one A. That’s my contact with LeBron. I have no idea what he will do and why. None. He’s his own man, and a pretty smart one. But here are the factors you’d assume he’d consider, in decending order of importance:
1. Team Success, 2010 Season
They win a championship next year, I don’t see how he possibly leaves. Same with getting just so close to the championship. But if they somehow don’t look like they have enough to win it all in that 2010 playoff run, or even look like they’re mostly having LeBron pull their way through like they did the finals year, I think he gives out-of-town a pretty strong look.
2. Team Success, 2009 Season
Again, a championship is a huge chip in the direction of staying, although even that might not be a huge factor if they can’t keep the momentum in 2010. Would Dwayne Wade have been crazy to leave Miami after the season after they won the championship?
3. What the Knicks or Other Suitors Look Like
If they’re rolling with another bona fide all star-caliber guy, some young guys who are a part of the core, solid role players and shooters, LeBron’s going to be more likely to step in there. If they’re hoping to set LeBron up with Wilson Chandler and Chris Duhon and change and make a run, I don’t think so.
4. What The Front-Court Looks Like
Z, the one guy on the team you feel LeBron truly respects and the team’s second-best player, could show up done in the next two years, and that presents a problem. Ben Wallace was supposed to be done this year. Both have contracts that expire in the summer of 2010. Will the Cavs be able to keep them at a reasonable fee? Will they be worth keeping at a reasonable fee? This will be important.
5. The Development of the Young Guys
Will Boobie, formerly LeBron’s on-court little brother and go-to shooter, still be an indispensible sniper or even a Ben-Gordon model bench scorer? Will Delonte still be a legitimate starting-quality shooting guard? Will JJ Hickson be Baby Amare or Ty Thomas Mk. II?
6. Landing Another Star
Wally Z’s expiring contract is a chance to snag another all-star to pair up with LeBron, as is the 2010 super-plan of snagging not only LeBron but Chris Bosh(who the Cavs almost would not be able to trade for pre-2010) or Amare Stoudamire or any of the other marquee free agents and unleashing SuperTeam upon an unsuspecting league. If this happens, it would be good.
7. Coach/System Player
(I cannot believe I’m saying this)
Mike Brown is a better coach for LeBron than Mike D’Antoni.
(I can’t believe I said that.)
Jordan’s Bulls won championships with a perimeter player as their go-to guy because they were a defensive team that kept the score low until their guy could take over. MB knows that score. MB’s teams have always out-performed themselves in the playoffs. D’Antoni’s haven’t. This season, MB’s shown himself to have prowess with a half-court offense if he has the tools. MB knows LeBron and they have a good relationship, and understands how to get LeBron going on defense and how to work within an offense. Mike Brown is the right coach for LeBron. Mike D’Antoni is not.
LeBron is a devoted partner and father. What does his family want? What does his mother want? I have no idea, but I know they’re important to LeBron.
? Hometown Pride vs. City Glamour
LeBron’s proud to be from Cleveland and loves his hometown and being a local boy made Very Good. Or would he rather be king of broadway? I think ALL THINGS being equal he’d probably rather be the latter, but that’s more of a guess that some people seem to think.
? The Legacy Factor
Here’s what nobody has talked about: In 20 years, nobody’s going to care where LeBron played. The people who truly love basketball don’t care about his market reach. If he jumps to a worse team and doesn’t win a championship or even worse, he will have his legacy tarnished beyond what would even be remotely possibly in Cleveland. Alex Rodriguez would look like Guliani in New York. Forget about Cleveland. He stays in Cleveland, he MIGHT not become immortal, but his greatness and personal fidelity would never come into question. We don’t remember Gretzky as a Los Angeles King.
Am I going to count up factors now? No. That’s just what I have on the table. I don’t know where it goes from here. I’m just going to watch LeBron James play basketball.