Thursday, July 08, 2010

LeBron's choice

LeBron James is a father of two who lives in Bath Township, Ohio. It's about 10 miles from Akron, where he grew up, and less than 30 from Cleveland, where he works for a living. He makes as much in salary as the NBA allows, plus millions more in endorsements, and his home is a 33,000-square-foot mansion. But set aside the dollar signs and he's like thousands of others from his hometown. Grew up poor. Didn't go to college. Maybe dreamed that one day, if things broke right, he could load up the car and drive north on I-77 for a life in the big city.

Things broke right. Now, in this awful economy, LeBron James is a rare soul: a 25-year-old with multiple job offers. All he has to do is decide what he wants.

When you were 25, did you know what you wanted?

Because of the way we live now, when LeBron announces his new team tonight, it will be on an hourlong ESPN special, with the main interviewer (Jim Gray) chosen by LeBron himself, all tied into LeBron's new website and new Twitter feed. (This morning's reports -- unconfirmed -- say that LeBron will announce he's playing for the Miami Heat.) Even before the TV special happens, it's being ripped as a giant ego stunt, an overhyped me-fest for a player who, as great as he is, has yet to win an NBA title.

I'm sure LeBron has an ego. But I'm not sure this is about ego. Maybe it's about control.

When you were 25, did you feel like you were in control?

The choices among his suitors seem fairly clear. If basketball -- winning championships -- is the main thing, he has to go to Miami or Chicago. Miami re-signed its superstar, Dwyane Wade, and is adding top-flight forward Chris Bosh. Chicago has dazzling point guard Derrick Rose and just signed All-Star Carlos Boozer. Either of those teams, with LeBron, is an instant favorite to make the NBA Finals.

If glamor is the thing, he has to go to New York. The Knicks have been awful for years; even with LeBron and free-agent pickup Amar'e Stoudemire, they might not be great. But in New York, LeBron can go on Letterman anytime he wants, and get standing O's at the Yankees games, and have a shot at being the biggest guy in the biggest city.

If loyalty is the thing -- and LeBron has a LOYALTY tattoo along his rib cage -- he has to go back to Cleveland. I'm not sure what kind of team he could put together now. Nearly all the big free agents have already signed. Whatever he assembles there would probably be underdogs to Orlando, Chicago, Miami and maybe Boston -- and that's just in the Eastern Conference. A long-term deal with Cleveland might mean three or four years before he has a prime shot at a title. And after 10 or 11 years of NBA pounding, even the best bodies start to break down.

But if he does win it all in Cleveland... it becomes one of the best sports stories in history. Kid grows up rooting for the local team, ends up playing for the local team, and wins a title for the local team -- but not just any local team, CLEVELAND, the city wrecked by decades of epic sports heartbreak. Could LeBron make up for all those times Cleveland fans have wound up doubled over in grief? Maybe only LeBron could.

Here's the thing, though. LeBron got to play for the local team. But he didn't choose to. He ended up in Cleveland because the Cavaliers won the 2003 draft lottery. If the Cavs hadn't won, LeBron could've opted for college. But more than likely he would've stayed in the draft and ended up with Detroit or Denver or one of the other teams with a high draft pick. And now, as a free agent, he'd have a chance to come back home.

As it worked out, he never went away. He's never been away. Even though he's played all over the country as an NBA star and all over the world as an Olympian, he has always lived within a few miles of where he grew up, and from his house it's a half-hour drive to work. Just like all those kids from Akron who grew up dreaming of a big house in town and a good job up in Cleveland.

Those are fine dreams. But other kids dream other things. They get to be 25 and they start to wonder what it might be like to set down roots somewhere else, to unpack your bags in a fresh town, to see how starting over changes you. It's not about rejecting home. It's about forcing yourself to grow by reaching for something new.

LeBron James is still a young man, but he has experienced things most of us can barely imagine. He's already one of the best ever at what he does. Fans adore him. The biggest sports network in the country is handing him an hour tonight to say what he wants to say. Millions of people are waiting for his choice.

And what I keep wondering is: Does he really know what he wants?

Does he dream about it?

And if he does, when he dreams, is he home or away?


Jason Edwards said...

Great Article Tommy. Great point about how he's always been home. He needs to be given the freedom to leave. And Cleveland needs to not resent him for doing so.

EricG said...
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Anonymous said...

It's 8:49 as I post this. Watch, in about 30 minutes, LeBron is going to bend the main suitors over and put in dry to each and every one of them. He's going to pull a fast one and end up somewhere else in the Eastern Conference that most people would never have thought of and that team will immediately become the instant favorites to win it all. Just watch.....

Anonymous said...

Oh My God!!!!
That was my reaction for this freaking new. COme on... one team cant has Lebron, D Wade and C Bosh. Its just unbeliveble. I will love to see three guys like them playing in the same team.
Now, I dont know if Miami Heat will be such a hugh team, because the playing styles of Wade and Lebron can colide and without any choice, one of this great players has to "eliminate" himself to let the other shine and I think that player will be Wade.
It is always a plessure to watch the NBA but watch the Miami will be even more exiting.

Very Good Luck to the Miami Heat but let the Celtics win the title.

By the way, congrats to Lakers by their back-to-back NBA title.

I hope that Cleveland Cavaliers find another player or system to keep them in the high level like when Lebron was there.

Good Luck, Go Celtics

Joao Paiva, 14 years old, Portugal

Lynne Stevenson said...

Too bad Mr. James isn't in the same boat I was at 25! I was a divorced single mother raising a son on $3.00 and some change an hour, wrapping change to pay for my son's day care while I worked all the hours I could to keep a roof over our heads, food in the refrigerator, and clothes on our backs.
I was most definitely in the wrong business then and I am in it now, since I seriously doubt that I will ever make any where near $1million, let alone the pay day he will come into just because he can play basketball.