Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James. Elise Amendola/AP
Shortly after 9 p.m. tonight, the suspense and breathless hype will finally be over. During an hour-long special on ESPN, LeBron James will tell the world where he intends to play basketball next season and beyond. And when he does, regardless of his decision, his star will be diminished.
Choices have consequences, and whatever he does will change the way we see him. The LeBron James story has two components. Since high school, he has been anointed as "The Chosen One," a player possessing an unmatched combination of speed, size and court savvy. He would make us forget Michael Jordan and he would overshadow Kobe Bryant. He would stack up championships with a supporting cast eager to play with him.
The other part of the LeBron James story was about hometown and loyalty. He was rooted in northeast Ohio. He grew up in Akron, and still lived there despite his mega millions. He played for the Cleveland Cavaliers — just a three-point shot away. He stayed close to his high school teammates, and he embraced those bonds in a documentary film about his high school team.
If LeBron faces the camera tonight and says, I'm staying in Cleveland, he will at least remain in the warm embrace of his hometown. Though we will wonder what all the hoopla was all about. But if he sticks with the Cavaliers his chances of winning a championship anytime soon are minimal. Other teams like Miami and Chicago have just improved themselves in the free agent market. And the Cavaliers have done nothing to get better. LeBron’s star power was not enough to lure any of the top available big men — Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer — to Cleveland. They all chose to play elsewhere.
If James instead says, "So long, Cleveland I'm heading for greener pastures," he becomes enemy number one in his hometown. The warm and fuzzy part of the LeBron James story becomes a farce — a kick in the teeth delivered in a prime time special.
If James winds up with the presumed favorite, the Miami Heat, he will indeed join a championship contender. But he will do so under rather humbling circumstances for "The Chosen One." He will join Bosh, who already emphatically refused to play in Cleveland, and Dwyane Wade, the reigning big dog superstar in Miami. Sure they might win some championships together, but the Heat would be known as Wade's team. The Chosen One as wing man? That's not what you expect from a global icon.
LeBron could always join the New York Knicks. But they're far from championship-ready. And a move to New York would be seen as marketing trumping basketball.
That leaves the Chicago Bulls, which is probably the best choice from a pure basketball perspective. LeBron would be the undisputed leader surrounded by a talented supporting cast. But he would be playing in the shadow of that Michael Jordan fellow, the guy with the six championship rings and the statue in his image in front of the arena.
TWO-WAY READERS: We couldn't resist a good, unscientific poll on the subject of LeBron's career. Vote early and often. We'll keep this open 'til 9:00 p.m. ET.