Cleveland Braces For Impact Of LeBron Exit

fromWCPN

The consensus on LeBron James' fate goes something like this: He's definitely going to Chicago. No! He's going to form a dream team in Miami. Wait! Why would he ever leave his beloved Cleveland? OK, so there is no agreement among the frenzied pundits leading up to Thursday's start of free agency. What most agree on is that LeBron leaving Cleveland would be a big blow to the city — both emotionally and economically, with millions of dollars at stake for downtown restaurants and businesses.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

It's July 1st, and that means dozens of National Basketball Association players are now free agents. That means they can go to any team that wants them. But one man is generating all the buzz - Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.

Team owners, executives and celebrity fans are all making their way to Ohio trying to convince James to sign with their teams.

As Dan Bobkoff of member station WCPN reports, that makes Cleveland very, very nervous.

DAN BOBKOFF: For weeks now, the rumors and predictions about LeBron James' future seem to change by the minute, and everyone has an opinion.

Chris Broussard, ESPN analyst.

Mr. CHRIS BROUSSARD (Sports Analyst, ESPN): Don't be surprised if it is Miami.

BOBKOFF: Buzz Bissinger, co-author of LeBron's book.

Mr. BUZZ BISSINGER (Co-author, "Shooting Stars"): I think LeBron should go to New York. It's New York. It's the greatest place on Earth.

BOBKOFF: K.C. Johnson, Bulls beat writer at the Chicago Tribune.

Mr. K.C. JOHNSON (Sports Writer, Chicago Tribune): There are several people, league executives and agents I talked to who think that Chicago has the best chance.

BOBKOFF: And Mary Schmitt Boyer, sports writer, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Ms. MARY SCHMITT BOYER (Sports Writer, Cleveland Plain Dealer): My gut feeling is that he will stay with the Cavs.

(Soundbite of song, "Should I Stay or Should I Go")

THE CLASH (Rock Band): (Singing) Should I stay or should I go?

BOBKOFF: The only man who maybe knows the future is the one they call King James, or as the 25-year-old says somewhat immodestly...

Mr. LEBRON JAMES (Professional Basketball Player): I'm the Chosen One, I guess.

BOBKOFF: What brought him to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 was luck, but fate sounds better. The high school star from down the road in Akron was the number one draft pick. And the Cavs were so awful, they had first dibs. He brought Cleveland prestige, international attention and some really good basketball, but he was supposed to bring the city its first professional sports championship since the Johnson administration.

Cleveland comic Mike Polk.

Mr. MIKE POLK (Comic): Logically, he can't leave here because if he leaves here, he leaves here having failed. You heard that, LeBron? I know you're a huge NPR listener.

(Soundbite of song, "Please Stay, LeBron")

Unidentified Man: There comes a time when a decision must be made.

BOBKOFF: Polk is the mastermind behind Cleveland's highest profile attempt to convince LeBron to stay - a plea in song from some of Cleveland's B- and C-level celebrities. It's somewhere between self-parody and heartfelt love letter to Cleveland. Even Ohio Governor Ted Strickland sings a few lines.

(Soundbite of song, "Please Stay, LeBron")

Governor TED STRICKLAND (Democrat, Ohio): (Singing) Please stay, LeBron. We really need you.

BOBKOFF: That video went viral weeks ago. But how do Clevelanders feel now? On East 4th Street, a bustling block of nightclubs, restaurants and bars, people sound tired of the whole spectacle.

Here's Mandela Jenkins(ph).

Mr. MANDELA JENKINS: I'm sure everybody is depending on James, Cleveland economy, you know, it's going to hurt a little bit, but the bird got to be free to fly.

BOBKOFF: Some on Twitter are already calling this LeBronmageddon. But Matt Breaks(ph) is an optimist.

Mr. MATT BREAKS: I think that he is going to re-sign with the Cavs.

BOBKOFF: But there's a twist.

Mr. BREAKS: Of course, I didn't grow up in Cleveland so I have a positive attitude in relation to people that grew up in Cleveland that always have a negative attitude.

BOBKOFF: Economists estimate the Cleveland area stands to lose tens of millions of dollars if LeBron heads to a bigger market. It would ripple through the restaurants, the bars, television advertising, hotels, even tax revenue - he pays lots in taxes.

For what it's worth, many pundits believe Cleveland still has a slight edge over Chicago, Miami, New York and the other teams trying to woo the king. LeBron James loves northeast Ohio.

Akron writer David Giffels.

Mr. DAVID GIFFELS (Columnist, Akron Beacon Journal): He has 330, the local Akron area code, tattooed down the front of his right forearm.

BOBKOFF: But if the lure of another city wins out over his love of home, comic Mike Polk says Clevelanders will survive.

Mr. POLK: This is still a vibrant city in a lot of ways. And the idea that this man-child, who's really good at throwing a ball through a circle, can just completely take it down with him if he decides to leave is absolutely ridiculous. You have plenty to live for, Cleveland. Chin up.

BOBKOFF: LeBron's advisers say he has an open mind about the whole thing. And former Hornets coach Byron Scott is expected to lead the Cavs next season. Scott should know soon if LeBron will be there too.

For NPR News, I'm Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland.

(Soundbite of song, "Please Do Not Go")

VIOLENT FEMMES (Rock Band): (Singing) ...do not go. Please, please, please do not go. Please, please, please do not go.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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