King's Crown To Be Worn In Cleveland
By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
Condescending New Yorkers can laugh all they want about how bad a city Cleveland is. I'm a proud Clevelander who's been living in the Big Apple for four years now, and it's been pretty entertaining watching the arrogance.
Sure, the Mistake On The Lake even sets rivers afire, but equally embarrassing are New York and its assumptions rooted in an ugly habit of self-absorption.
If this was the 1980s, certainly LeBron James would want out of Cleveland in favor of New York, probably even New Mexico.
But it hasn't been the 1980s for a long time. Tired of being the butt of late-night jokes, Cleveland turned itself around and enjoyed a prosperous 1990s. That mini-renaissance, however, began so long ago that the city has returned to being miserable again. That much I can admit.
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That Cleveland seems the antithesis of the destination city New York has long been is hardly the matter when we're talking about James' NBA future. Folks love to talk about how great of a city it is here -- and it is -- but why do we put so much weight on that fact? LeBron isn't a tourist; he's a pro athlete who for probably no more than 10 more years will devote eight, nine, maybe 10 months each calendar to his employer. And when he doesn't have Team USA commitments in the summer, he'll make his commercials and appearances wherever Nike and others need him. If it's in New York, a 90-minute flight on his own plane is more than manageable. Whether he's reppin' the 212 or the 216, LeBron Inc. will continue its march toward total global domination.
He already has a few dollars in the bank, and with what the Cavaliers will offer James this summer after he leads them to their first NBA championship, he'll have many millions more.
And if you think leading a New York team to yet another championship would be a crowning achievement for King James, imagine what it would be like for him in Cleveland, perhaps more starved for a championship than any American city in the last several decades. He's Cleveland's only active hero and not even one NBA banner has been raised. The love affair will only grow stronger between James and his hometown if he carries his team to the title in June, giving an entire city's population reason to believe several more are on the way.
The funny thing is that in all the will-he-or-won't-he columns I've been reading, what gets written about the least is the actual basketball portion of the equation. Is it because New Yorkers know their city has been a basketball wasteland for more than a decade? Relocating to The City That Never Makes The NBA Playoffs might possibly raise LeBron's international profile, but how much room is there realistically left for that at this point? James' top priority for the balance of his career will be winning championships, not sightseeing. Regardless of what happens in Cleveland's postseason run that begins next week, a move to the Big Apple will no doubt set back his quest for a first or second ring.
Now, I know the Knicks have been clearing cap room for two full years under Donnie Walsh, not only to increase their ability to lure LeBron to New York but as well as a second elite player in what is expected to be the sexiest free-agent class ever. But just because a move will be possible, what makes playing -- not living, but playing -- in New York so great? On the basketball court, at least, why do locals up here assume that being a Knick is so much better than being a Cavalier?
In those same two years, Cavs' management has shown its dedication to championship basketball by acquiring Mo Williams, Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison. General Manager Danny Ferry has slowly assembled a supporting cast similar to how the Chicago Bulls began to build themselves in the late 1980s. They eventually won six titles with Michael Jordan, but not until his seventh year in 1991 did they win their first. This is James' seventh year in Cleveland.
King James is pretty close to maxing out when it comes to image, celebrity and access, three things that do not help him win basketball games. He needs more than he wants, and the only significant void left in his life, even at the young age of 25, is championships. Winning rings in New York certainly has a nice, well, ring to it, but I can't imagine it gets much better than winning in your hometown with a team that's showed its commitment to both the present and its future.
When the 2010-11 season tips off around Halloween next fall, expect LeBron James to be dressed up as a Cleveland Cavalier, ready to treat his employers to a second straight NBA championship.