I have about a billion basketball-related thoughts racing through my brain right now. Let’s try to knock out a few before Thursday night.
Thought #1: Wade and Bosh upstaged The King
The unspoken ground rules for LeBron-A-Palooza read like this: Lay low until LeBron makes his decision; maneuver behind the scenes; make arrangements, but don’t spill the beans until the Alpha Domino falls; let LeBron have his day in the sun – whether he deserves it or not. Well apparently Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley (the only guys in this entire increasingly surreal equation with actual rings) decided that working within said framework was the best course of action for LeBron. That they didn’t get this far through deference. That, with all due respect, King James: you can take your crown and step aside. Now the Miami Heat have a finite nucleus from which to build around, LBJ or not. Riles delivered on his promise. Wade has a wingman for the rest of his career, and LeBron is in danger of being in the exact same position he was in three months ago, only with stiffer competition.
Thought #2: Loyalty to your hometown is rewarded, provided your hometown isn’t Cleveland
Let me take you back to the trade deadline. At the time, the Toronto Raptors thought they had a legitimate chance of retaining the services of their star big man. But had Raps brass been realistic about the situation, they could have swung a deal for the same pieces Cleveland put on the table a couple days ago. Yeah, it would have been risky from Cleveland’s standpoint, potentially trading away the likes of Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson and picks just to watch LeBron and Bosh leave, too, at season’s end. But that’s pretty much the situation they’re in now anyway. If LeBron leaves, guys X, Y and Z are irrelevant. Would Bosh have been enough to deliver a title? Would a title have been enough to keep LeBron in Cleveland? Does LeBron end up staying in Cleveland either way?
We’ll never have answers to some of these questions, but we do know this: Cleveland can’t compete with Miami or New York or Chicago or L.A. If you believe the reports, LeBron really did push hard for Bosh to join him in Cleveland. And that Bosh said “hell no” to $30 million in extra bank and the possibility of spending the next six years on the best team in the league gives you some idea of what an enormous disadvantage the Cavs are dealing with.
All things being equal, Bosh goes to Cleveland to play with a slightly better player, a much better team, and a boatload more money. The notion that he went to Miami because he was more likely to get equal billing is bogus – he went to Miami because it’s Miami. Dwyane Wade has a county named after him. He has no peers. And to this end, it’s a lot easier for Wade to stay with the Heat than it is for LeBron to stay in Cleveland. Loyalty paid off in the end. But come on – with Bosh in tow, this was a no-brainer.
Thought #3: On the other hand…
Cleveland’s biggest advantage in landing LeBron could very well be that… it’s Cleveland. As in Ohio, home of St. Vincent-St. Mary’s, Gloria James, LeBron Jr., LeBron. If he “does the right thing,” he stays put at the risk of becoming something of a tragic hero – a herculean superhuman undone by unfailing devotion to a loser town.
Thought #4: “The Decision” could be an absolute disaster
The Boston Globe’s Jackie MacMullan hit this one on the head: “Call it off, LeBron. Sorry ESPN.” Hell, I felt this way before I knew Pete Rose nemesis Jim Gray would be involved (QbytheU: “I still maintain he has pictures on somebody with farm animals”). I figured that if LeBron was going to go through with this ego-driven madness, he might as well do it up – make it big, really freaking big. I envisioned one of four scenarios: A) MJ crowns The King from atop the Sears Tower, “ceding the thrown” so to speak with Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Derrick Rose and Luc Longley looking on (okay, scratch Longley) B) Decked out in the biggest guayabera you’ve ever seen, LeBron announces his new Heat deal in a press conference at South Beach’s Clevelander Hotel, you know, just to rub it in C) Mark Messier hands LeBron his new No. 11 jersey on the floor of Madison Square Garden. The Yes Network presents him with a $20 million endorsement deal to compensate for the money he’ll forfeit so the Knicks can bring in ‘Melo D) A 73,000 capacity crowd in Cleveland Browns Stadium re-welcomes home its favorite son.
But no. Instead this whole clusterf*ck goes down at a Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich, CT. And while it’s a nice gesture for LeBron’s camp to mint charity coin with ad revenue, it’s impossible to look at the hour-long spectacle as anything other than a premature display of self-anointing by a 25-year-old kid who still hasn’t done enough in terms of W’s to warrant such a show. There’s the big announcement 10 minutes in – possibly with college recruit-style hats – lots of guffawing and a “free-form” interview. Still, try as he might, LeBron can’t reclaim a hijacked summer that he’s long taken for granted as his alone… unless, of course, he chooses New York or Chicago.
Thought #5: Is Erik Spoelstra on the brink of supplanting Ringo Starr as world’s luckiest man?
Ironic right? On the Fourth Beatle’s 70th birthday, Heat coach-for-now Erik Spoelstra potentially finds himself surrounded by three superstar meal tickets. We just assumed that Riles would march the 50 or so feet down from the luxury boxes to the bench as soon as the Heat landed Free Agent Stud No. 2. No way would he pass on the opportunity to fit himself with a sixth ring (and seventh, eighth…). He’d pushed a “protege” out before, and a more talented one at that… Well perhaps the biggest surprise of this entire ordeal is that Coach Slick has a conscience – a small, ego-stroking conscience, but a conscience nonetheless. For his part, Dwyane Wade assertively maintained during his I’m-Staying interview that Spoelstra is the guy. Likewise, Bosh told the Miami Herald, “That [interview] made that clear. Dwyane made that clear. Pat made it clear. Erik’s the guy.” I’ll believe it when I see it (just sayin’, better not get off to an 11-10 start), but should Spoelstra actually helm the Wade/Bosh/LeBron trifecta, he’ll hold the trump card over Ringo, Stevie Williams, Larry Coker and all the other world’s luckiest men. Next year’s Heat job could be the most enviable of any in league history. And it just might belong to Erik Freaking Spoelstra.
Thought #6: Beware the sleeping giant out West.
Believe it or not, the league doesn’t revolve around LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, or so I’ve told myself. In fact, there’s a 21-year-old phenom out in Oklahoma City that might end up being better than both… You watch basketball. You know how freakishly gifted Kevin Durant is. You know how he turned a 23-win squad into an early challenger to the eventual champions. And you know that the team for which he plays is loaded with young talent. Durant signed a 5-year, $86 million extension with the Thunder today. Three or four years from now, we could look back on this past week as a game-changer: Durantula chose to stay in Oklahoma City, the new capital of basketball. That dot LeBron sees in his rearview mirror? It’s a six-foot nine-inch freight train.
Thought #7: I’ve changed my mind. LeBron stays in Cleveland.
Despite Chicago’s sweetening of the pot with Carlos Boozer and Chad Ochocinco’s NYC-riddled tweets, I’m picking LeBron to pass up the glitz and glitter (and jewelry) to stay in Cleveland. He just doesn’t have the nerve to stick it to his boys back home with an hour-long SportsCenter Special… right? I think LeBron is better than that. A hopeless sports town needs him to be.