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Courting a king

Sports | The LeBron James sweepstakes will say a lot about how the game's best player defines greatness

Issue: "Gulf toil," June 5, 2010

Cleveland superstar LeBron James sputtered horribly in his team's playoff demise to the aging Boston Celtics, missing 11 of 14 shots in an embarrassing 32-point defeat in Game 5 and committing nine turnovers two days later to seal elimination. But that premature exit from championship contention isn't likely to cool the inferno of interest from teams around the league hoping to land the most coveted free agent since Shaquille O'Neal in 1996.

James goes on the open market July 1, and the list of organizations lining up to woo him reads like a who's who of great American cities-New York, Chicago, L.A., Miami. Don't forget Cleveland. James has not ruled out remaining with the team and city of his youth.

For a player who skipped straight to the professional ranks from high school and never experienced the college recruiting process, the next several weeks might well amount to the most lavish recruiting run in sports history-and this with no fear of NCAA violations. Places like New York and Chicago seem all too willing to grovel and beg for the services of King James, each city offering its own mix of allurements. Where James lands will hinge on how he determines to define greatness.

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If greatness for James is defined by salary, he can do no better than staying put in Cleveland. The Cavaliers have the upper hand in the bidding war in that they can offer up to about $125 million over the next six years. Other bids can only max out at about $96 million over five years. But for a man who has stated his intention of becoming a billionaire, salary plays only a small part in that consideration. The increased market size of larger cities could vault James to even higher levels of public appeal and yield higher sums in endorsement contracts.

But James has made comments suggesting his primary objective in this summer's sweepstakes is to end up with a winner. If he defines greatness in terms of NBA titles, playing in Miami under coach Pat Riley or in Chicago alongside emerging star Derrick Rose makes the most sense. James has indicated his hope to become an international icon on par with Michael Jordan. That will require championships, lots of championships.

Of course, there is a third possibility: James might well define greatness in terms of loyalty, civic pride, and hometown devotion. He might determine that his lackluster performance in the playoffs this year is no way to exit the city that made him, cheers him, loves him. He could decide to give Cleveland six more years. But don't count on it.

Razing Arizona

The new Arizona law tightening immigration enforcement has triggered national outcries, protests, and even boycotts. Now opponents of the law are aiming to shut down one of the beleaguered state's most beloved annual traditions-spring training.

Protesters in Chicago have rallied outside Wrigley Field, demanding that the Cubs abandon Arizona's Cactus League next year. National opponents of the law have called for similar demonstrations in all 15 cities with teams that make Arizona their spring home.

What's more, pressure is building to relocate the 2011 MLB All-Star game now scheduled for Phoenix. But Commissioner Bud Selig has said the league will make no such move.
Email: mbergin@worldmag.com

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