By Frank Hughes
May 28, 2010

Earlier this season, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James said that he was switching his jersey from No. 23 to No. 6 because he wanted to honor Hall of Famer Michael Jordan.

Now, the time has come for James to do more than honor Jordan. It is time for James to study what it was that made Jordan not only a global icon, but also one of the greatest champions of all-time.

As the speculation about James' uncertain future crescendoes into an uncontrollable rage, it is time for James to take a proactive approach to both his future and that of the team that has done virtually everything it can to place him in the best possible spot.

It is time for James to stop exhibiting the coyness of a teenage schoolgirl yearning for the affections of multiple suitors only to satiate her own selfish yearnings.

There is too much at stake here. Too many people are affected for whimsical fancy.

When Jordan signed an eight-year, $25 million contract in 1988, it was at the time a groundbreaking decision, one that obliterated the 25-year, $25 million contract signed by Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson.

As it turned out, the deal, as futuristic as it seemed, was shortsighted. The economic dynamics of the NBA changed too rapidly. Jordan clearly remained the preeminent player of his era, his enormous star power immeasurable as he attracted and mesmerized audiences worldwide. And yet, as players with far less distinction benefitted from Jordan's allure by signing wealthier and more robust contracts, Jordan remained locked into his salary. In 1995-96, the last year of his contract, Jordan was the NBA's 11th-highest paid player, with New York's Patrick Ewing earning four-and-a-half times what Jordan was making. Even San Antonio's Sean Elliott was paid more handsomely than Jordan, who made $3.875 million that year.

Yes, Jordan was miffed. He would privately grouse about his basketball income and not-so-subtly urge those covering the team to regularly write about the relative paucity of his deal.

Jordan could have held the Bulls hostage in the same fashion that James is holding Cleveland hostage, whipping into a frenzy those who embraced the notion that one of the greatest players of all time would potentially entertain them on a nightly basis while sending Chicagoans into a virtual panic.

But Jordan didn't. On the advice of his agent David Falk, Jordan understood the macroeconomic effect and the lasting impact it would have on his legacy. He waited until Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf made good on his promise of back pay and rewarded Jordan with $63 million over two seasons.

"The biggest thing I preach to my players is they have power," Falk told "Don't abuse that power, but use it to your advantage.

"I am a big LeBron James fan. But he needs to decide what he wants to do. He has all of the power. If he doesn't want to stay, fine. If he wants to go, then go. But tell Cleveland that and work with them to make it happen in the best fashion for everybody. The lack of dialogue is, to me, confusing and illogical.

"I don't think the people around him understand that. I don't think they understand that if LeBron James leaves Cleveland he will be a pariah, he will be a Benedict Arnold. I don't think he understands the implications of his decision. If he leaves, Cleveland's economy is going to tank, he is that important.

"He is in a unique situation. Do you think if Dwyane Wade leaves Miami and goes back to Chicago anybody in Miami is going to hold it against him? But if LeBron James leaves Cleveland and goes somewhere else he will be a pariah in the entire state of Ohio."

Falk said he understands James' desire to be pursued by every team with enough money to pay him a maximum contract. And some that can't.

"First off, he has not gone to college so he has never been recruited. I understand that," Falk said. "But I have never had a player go on a recruiting tour. He has been in the league seven years. How many times has he been to the United Center? He knows where the Bulls play. He knows where the Bulls practice."

I suggest to Falk two possibilities.

The first is that this is exactly what James wants, a thrill ride where he is the centerpiece and everybody else swirls chaotically around him, reaching out for some semblance of stability.

The second is that perhaps James has no idea what he wants. Otherwise why be so cavalier and passive in his approach?

A story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last Saturday said that James was not willing to tell Cleveland management whether it should fire Mike Brown or not because James does not want to be viewed as a coach-killer.

And yet, the Clippers are putting on hold their coaching search with the hope that allowing James to name his own coach will entice him to join that organization.

It is time, Falk said, for James to take some sort of stand. This is James' career. His legacy. Not his friends'. Not his advisors'. His.

"He needs to figure out what he wants," Falk said. "Does he want to win? Or does he want to be a star? I don't know what his goals are. If he wants to win, he needs to walk into the Cleveland front office and say I want A, B, C, D, E. He will get whatever he wants."

If winning is James' primary motivation, he should stay in Cleveland, Falk said.

"The Cavs have won more games over the course of the past two seasons than any team in the history of the game other than the '90-92 Bulls and the '95-97 Bulls team that won 72 games," Falk said. "They have the talent. Now LeBron just needs to decide what he thinks is going to put them over the top."

Regardless of what he wants, Falk said he thinks James should steer away from either Chicago or the Clippers.

"He should not play in Chicago. He will always compete with Michael Jordan," Falk said. "He should not play in L.A. He will always compete with Kobe Bryant.

"LeBron needs his own identity. The worst place in the world for LeBron to go is Chicago. If he doesn't win six championships, he is a failure. If he doesn't win the MVP five times, he is a failure. Every night he walks into the building he will walk past the statue of Michael Jordan. LeBron is too big. He should not have to play in the shadow of Michael Jordan."

No, but he should emulate the way he handled his business.

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