No, this isn’t a story about an election. But the selection of one player that will sway the course of his sport, and maybe the entire sports landscape. Shortly after 9 p.m., eastern standard time, LeBron James will announce, during a one-hour special airing live on ESPN, which team he will sign with. This you already know. And we’ve all heard the rumors change every few hours. He doesn’t want to leave his home state, er wait a second he’s leaving for New Yor-scratch that he’s going to Miami to form the Daydream Team.
While several outlets are reporting that James will join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, nothing has been confirmed by James or his very tight-knight and tight-lipped inner circle. Different signs point to different scenarios. LeBron is making his announcement in Greenwich, Conn., just a few miles from Manhattan, and the stock price for Cablevision (which owns the Knick, as well as Newsday, one of the media outlets to first report James to Miami) jumped on Wednesday amidst speculation that LeBron will be a Knick. But the Newsday report by Alan Hahn and the ESPN report by Chris Broussard say Miami, and celebrity-gossip magazine US Weekly is reporting that LeBron is throwing a big party in South Beach over the weekend, presumably to celebrate his joining his buddies Bosh and Wade in Miami.
And by now you also know that Chicago is still probably the best fit for LeBron on the court, with a playoff-ready roster including Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and newly-signed Carlos Boozer. There is little doubt that a Bulls team led by LeBron would immediately contend for a title. But how many titles would it take for James to overcome the shadow of Michael Jordan? And the signing of Boozer by the Bulls on Wednesday will probably do little to sway LeBron. Remember the two could have been teammates this whole time in Cleveland, but Boozer bailed for Utah.
That leaves the Cavaliers, LeBron’s only team and his hometown team. So far the Cavaliers are the only LeBron contender that has yet to make a roster move in the off season. So as LeBron is making his decision this is basically the same Cavs team that sputtered in the playoffs the past two years. Will that be enough to hold LeBron’s loyalty?
Even with all the momentum swinging towards Miami, I still have no clue what LeBron will do tonight. I don’t think anyone really does outside of his very close circle. As a Knicks fan, it would first be very disappointing to see him not come to the Knicks. He can lead a basketball re-birth in New York, would have a good wingman in Amar’e Stoudemire (who won’t bring any championships by himself, but does make the team better and gives the Knicks some legitimate excitement) and have a shot to build a championship team around him while becoming a global icon. And the Miami Heat are the last team I want to see LeBron go to because I could never cheer for that team. I grew up hating the Heat and Pat Riley (as well as most of the Miami teams-Miami vs. New York is a good rivalry in every sport) and I just wouldn’t be able to bring myself to root them on. I’d rather see the Lakers three-peat than a LeBron-Wade-Bosh Miami team win it all.
But let’s assume he does go to Miami, it would set two astounding precedents in sports. Even though LeBron, Wade, and Bosh all played for team USA in the Olympics and remain good friends, there has never been a moment when a group of the best players in a sport all decided to put egos and money aside and join the same team. There have been several teams in every sport full of multiple superstars and future Hall-of-Famers, but most were before the age of free-agency or were combinations of trades and drafts, but never all the players getting together and deciding where to go.
The Wade-LeBron dynamic would be fascinating. Bosh is a great player, but even he knows he’s not on their level. These are the two stars of the off season, the ones that dictated (advertently or inadvertently) where everyone else was going to go. And LeBron going to Wade’s team where Wade already has a title would be an ego check few pro athletes are willing to make. Who would make the most money, from his contract or endorsements? The only situation comparable to LeBron and Wade is A-Rod and Jeter, which came together by a trade and not by signing at the same time, and A-Rod endured years of criticism and scandal before winning a championship. Is LeBron willing to endure that? If the Heat don’t win a title with this trio, LeBron will take the biggest hit of the three by far, and might become the most reviled athlete in sports.
LeBron’s decision won’t just impact which team dominates the hardwood for the next several years, but also how athletes interact with the media and fans. The media world has been buzzing about this exact moment for years with increasing fervor over the recent months, weeks and days, and they are actually going to get a moment. If the ratings are high enough, will other athletes follow suit and announce their signings via scheduled announcements and interviews? Imagine years from now the Stephen Strasburg Sportscenter Special sometime in December, or Tom Brady overshadowing March Madness to announce his intentions. Imagine if Brett Favre or Roger Clemens had done this earlier in the decade.
This series of events has played out just like a reality TV show. Wade and Bosh have even had their own camera crews filming the events. Has some or all of this drama been staged? Are the people saying Miami or New York being told that just to amp the drama and throw people off the real answer? Will tonight actually look like a reality show with a table full of hats or jerseys that LeBron will pick or remove to reveal his destination? I can’t remember this much attention being paid to a sporting event that wasn’t an actual game. All eyes will be on LeBron tonight, and his decision will decide how he is seen for the rest of his life, for better or for worse.
Just what you asked for LeBron: We are all witness...