By now, you've heard all the comparisons between Michael Jordan's first championship run in 1991 and LeBron James' presumed championship run happening before us now. Like MJ, LBJ presumably will win his first ring in his seventh NBA season. Like MJ, LBJ will win his first ring after securing his second MVP trophy. Like MJ, who needed Scottie Pippen to win his first ring, LBJ now has Antawn Jamison to take his first Larry O'Brien trophy home.
And so on ...
Based on this type of chatter, it's as if LBJ will win it all this year simply because MJ did so around the same time in his career. This overlooks what a splendid job Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry has done in assembling one of the greatest rosters possible to surround LeBron with, while also shadowing what an awful job the Knicks have done to lure LeBron to the Big Apple.
Ah yes, right alongside this presumptive championship talk (by the way, count me in on the bandwagon of those thinking LeBron does - in fact - win his first ring this year), the basketball punditry world is all atwitter about where the unrestricted-free-agent-to-be will wind up after bringing Cleveland its first major sports championship since, ironically, the LBJ Administration.
The "he's staying in Cleveland!" crowd insists that if the modern era's LBJ does, in fact, bring home that title, then he'll stay to add more trophies to his shelf, building a Bulls-like dynasty in Northern Ohio.
The "he's going to New York!" crowd insists that if the title is won, it gives LBJ the perfect out to come to New York. "Hey, I've accomplished all I could in Cleveland and now I can move on to the next chapter of my life," goes the thinking among this crowd.
I'm siding firmly with the "he's staying in Cleveland!" crowd for a number of reasons often not mentioned. Consider ...
... when billionaire Dan Gilbert purchased the Cavaliers in 2005 during LeBron's sophomore season, he paid $375 million for a franchise valued at $258 million before LeBron was a rookie. The franchise is allegedly worth $476 million today and will go up even further if LeBron stays. There's no way a businessman as shrewd and calculating as Gilbert lets LeBron walk now.
... speaking of shrewd and calculating, in 2009 Gilbert astutely brought in a Chinese investment team that specializes in sports marketing to purchase a 15-percent stake in the Cavaliers. On a number of occasions, LeBron has publicly stated his desires to be the biggest thing in China since the Ming Dynasty, and in theory this investment group can get him there. Simply put, when you're purchasing 15 percent of the Cavaliers you're purchasing 15 percent of LeBron James, Inc. These guys aren't letting him walk either.
... as noted above, Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry has assembled a roster that could not only win this year's NBA championship, but several more if LeBron is smart enough to stick around. And after watching Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal's rendition of "Jessie's Girl" alongside two bizarre puppets, is there any dispute as to who the most fun teammate in the NBA is?
... in pure basketball terms, the Knicks have done a horrible job making New York a desirable place to play. Picking up after Isiah Thomas and Scott Layden's mess may be the equivalent of taking over the presidency after eight years of George W. Bush. But current Knicks president Donnie Walsh - who had no margin of error to begin with - has made a number of blunders that may have made the Knicks worse off than before. In 2008, Walsh passed over Brook Lopez and Eric Gordon in favor of Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni's Italian friend's son Danilo Gallinari. And more sinful, in 2009 Walsh passed over Brandon Jennings in favor of Jordan Hill ... whom he traded soon thereafter in the Tracy McGrady deal, which will cost the Knicks their high 2011 first-round pick and their 2012 first round pick unless they are in the top five. Throw in the fact that the Knicks don't have their own lottery pick this year (thank you, Scott Layden) and the only players guaranteed to be on their roster next season are Eddy Curry, Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas. The best LeBron could do is guarantee a playoff spot.
... the 12-win, about-to-play-in-Newark Nets are a much more appealing option if LeBron bails on Cleveland. The Nets have an All-Star caliber point guard in Devin Harris, a solid center in Lopez, potentially solid role players in Terrence Williams, Courtney Lee and Chris Douglas-Roberts, and their own lottery pick plus another first-rounder. Hey, it's the same media market as New York, too.
I get that New York is a much, much more appealing place to live in than Cleveland. Just ask Joakim Noah. And being a winner in New York has to feel better than being a winner anyplace else. But given the current state of the Knicks, LeBron would be better off signing a three-year deal with the Cavaliers, win a few more rings, and see if the Knicks are worth playing for when LeBron turns 29.
Cleveland may never forgive LeBron for bailing on them, even if he wins a ring for the long suffering sports city. But they just might forgive him if wins three.