And so, we reach the endgame. With any luck, the last act of this seemingly interminable play will be the shortest. The prelude to the Great Free-Agent Summer of 2010, starring
Ever since the Celtics eliminated the Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs and ended James' season, the buzz has grown to a crescendo, the NBA version of the vuvuzelas' drone, with endless chatter about what uniform LBJ will be wearing next fall. It seems everyone has anonymous sources from whom they get daily rumors, each one seeming to contradict the last. LeBron and
Some of the commotion is understandable. After all, when was the last time a player of James' stature made himself so available? But the guessing game, which James has encouraged with his coy answers, his winking "Wouldn't-you-like-to-know?" demeanor, has become like The Blob, swallowing up everything in its path. The playoffs became almost an afterthought to the James mystery. During one game of the Cavs-Celtics series, we had one eye on the court and one eye on the courtside seats, where one of James' advisors,
Even the draft last week had the shadow of James looming over it. Not every draft-day move was made with James and salary-cap relief in mind; it just seemed like it. No one is bigger than the game -- isn't that what they say? For the last several weeks, and for at least a few days more, that isn't true. Until he finally signs somewhere and puts all of this to rest, LeBron is bigger than the league.
The troubling part about that is, you get sense that he likes it that way. All the attention, all the celebrities, politicians, business people almost begging him to grace their city with his presence -- it seems as though this is what he's wanted all along. The interviews with
If the King and his "team," as he calls his group of friends and advisors, haven't orchestrated this frenzy, they have at least fed it. But you wonder if James, who has always been so concerned with extending his brand and achieving
Until now he has been almost universally loved. Like Jordan, fans in oppponents' arenas often cheered James even when he was eviscerating their team. But don't be surprised if that changes next season, regardless of where he signs. He will never be beloved again in Cleveland if he leaves his hometown team, of course. But even if he stays with the Cavs, he will never be greeted as warmly in Chicago or New York or Miami, because those fans will know he spurned them. Will fans be as quick to buy the products he endorses after he has teased them with the possibility of playing for their favorite team, and then dashed their hopes? James can only hope so.
There is so much about this free-agent summer that just doesn't feel quite right, including the way that James and other stars seem to be all in this together. The talk of a free-agent summit with James, Bosh,
The stars are free to team up any way they choose, of course, but it seems almost non-competitive for such elite players to want to form some kind of super team. Instead of three players of that stature wanting to stack a team, shouldn't they be trying to beat each other? Are these guys athletic rivals or business partners?
Go back a generation. Would, say, Jordan,
We will find out a great deal about James in the coming days -- about what's important to him, about his real desire to win a championship, about whether he cares how that championship is won. It will be fascinating to get those answers, and to see how he and the other stars will change the face of the NBA with their free-agent decisions.
Maybe, in the end, it will have been worth it to go through all the speculating, analyzing and downright guessing. But we won't know that until LBJ and the others finally sign on someone's dotted line.
For everyone's sake, let's hope they don't drag it out. We ask only one thing of LeBron: Sign somewhere. Anywhere. Soon.