The courting of King James

  • By Mark Heisler Los Angeles Times
  • Sunday, November 30, 2008 9:33pm
  • SportsSports

Only 567 more shopping days until LeBronmas.

What ill wind was it that blew the Cleveland Cavaliers into New York four days after the Knicks unloaded enough salary to sign LeBron James and any other star he designates in 2010?

New York being New York, the result was the first … LeBronstock!

Knicks fans cheered James as if he were already theirs. The media went gaga. Nike marked the occasion, launching a LeBron sneaker with a battalion of employees in red “Witness” T-shirts descending upon Madison Square Garden.

Cleveland’s Ben Wallace, asked what he thought about the reaction, replied, “I think it’s tampering.”

“You think the city of New York was tampering?” asked the reporter.

For all it was worth. Celebrities poured forth, among them New Jersey co-owner Jay-Z with his wife, Beyonce, protecting his interests with his Nets also in the running.

A few seats away, Knicks fan Spike Lee conferred with Knicks President Donnie Walsh, who had just dumped Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford, creating $46 million worth of cap room in 2010.

“If you guys want to sleep now and don’t wake up until July 1, 2010, then go ahead,” a merry LeBron told reporters after the Cavaliers buried the Knicks.

“It’s going to be a big day.”

How about if they just do stories about it every day between now and then?

Not only will James become a free agent that day, so will Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Yao Ming, Joe Johnson, Manu Ginobili, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Tyson Chandler, Tracy McGrady, Michael Redd and Ray Allen.

GMs have eyed this class for two years — since James opted to sign a four-year extension instead of the maximum five, and Wade followed suit.

Speculation about James’ leaving is excruciating for Cleveland, which has a special place in its oft-broken heart for local stars who don’t big-time it out of there.

The Cavaliers have long tried to make the story go away.

With the cat, now the size of a tiger, clawing its way out of the bag, owner Dan Gilbert recently called the notion James might leave “an insult” to Cleveland and the entire Midwest.

If he thinks it was bad, what lies ahead will be like U.S. troops putting loudspeakers around the embassy in which Panama strongman Manuel Noriega took refuge in 1989 and blasting it around the clock with heavy metal rock ‘n’ roll. Here’s what we know. We’ll call these the LeBron Rules:

n James really doesn’t know what he’ll do.

He’s like he was in high school, the boy in the bubble, bemused by the antics of people around him who are supposed to be grownups.

When July 1, 2010, rolls around, he’ll decide, and not a moment before.

n James does have a thing for New York — but that doesn’t mean he’ll go.

Even if he’s a Yankees fan, LeBron thinks any place he lives is a world capital, convening marketing summits in Akron, Ohio, his hometown, that oblige his big-ticket corporate partners to schlep there, as if to demonstrate it.

“No team LeBron James is on,” announced LeBron James, “will ever be under the radar.”

n Cleveland is outgunned.

Well, in glamour, for sure.

Nevertheless, Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry has finally managed to put nice pieces like Mo Williams and Delonte West around James while preparing for that day.

The Cavaliers will have cap room too. They’re thought to be eyeing Bosh, to give James an added reason to stay.

n Bosh’s name sure comes up a lot in this.

There’s widespread speculation he and James will wind up together, if not in New York, somewhere else.

n Yes, there’s definitely something wrong here.

“If I read one more story about where LeBron James might play two years from now, I’m going to puke,” wrote’s Peter King.

“Really: In what other sport are the next two seasons rendered totally meaningless for a cornerstone-of-the-league franchise like the New York Knickerbockers? It’s everywhere — on talk radio, on ‘SportsCenter,’ in columns, endlessly in every New York paper and Web site …

“Do you mean to tell me it’s good for your game that a team is going to play the next 164 games with an eye not on the present, but on the future?”

n That’s a yes too.

King is an NFL writer and may have missed a development or two, like the fact this “cornerstone” hasn’t just been a loser but a laughingstock for years.

If landing James is only a hope, no matter how manifest New York always thinks its destiny is, it’s better than anything the Knicks have offered recently.

With all that cap room and all those free agents, they’ll get someone. Says the New York Daily News’ Mitch Lawrence of Walsh: “He walks on water around here.”

On the bright side, at least the Cavaliers know the threat is real.

By now, they may be building a wall around Cleveland and expelling visitors from New York, just to start with.

By the way, he’s worth it

At last week’s game in New York, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Brian Windhorst heard a Knick fan yell at James, “Are you worth the wait or not? We just junked this season and next!”

If he isn’t, no one is.

Aside from his usual lofty numbers, James started the weekend at career highs in shooting (48.7 percent) and free throw shooting (78.6 percent). Once a toreador, he’s continuing to defend at the level he went to on the Olympic team.

“Ain’t nobody guarding him one-on-one,” said New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank. “It’s just a team effort.

“You have your rules for him at different parts of the game but he won’t comply. The guy violates every rule…. Plus the thing he’s doing now, he’s defending.”

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