Now for the decision the NBA has waited years for...
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With LeBron James thought to be down to staying in Cleveland or joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, the decision comes Thursday night.
Unfortunately, after struggling with the rest of the process, James tacked on a tacky ending guaranteed to have the nation rolling its eyes, selling the announcement to ESPN, turning it from a news event to a one-hour TV special.
As if fending off the expected wave of criticism, ESPN said James would make his announcement in the first 10 minutes.
Normally, ESPN would have devoted at least 30 minutes to an introduction by someone like Stuart Scott, MTV-style retrospectives of James’ career, re-examinations of everything leading up to this moment by ESPN pundits and several commercial breaks first.
In keeping with the fact it has purchased a news story, ESPN presumably will maintain a businesslike tone, with the rest of the program devoted to speculation by its pundits and remotes from losing teams’ offices where its reporters, who may or may not have time to talk to anyone, say, or make up, things like:
" Knicks officials aren’t commenting but say privately they remain confident in their salary cap strategy, which was never just about LeBron James.”
If the ending is yet to be revealed, the weeklong recruiting process had some surprises:
Chicago, the obvious choice with the best roster ( Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson) and enough cap room for two $15-million deals, but not for two maximum $16.5-million deals, mysteriously fell by the wayside.
As if acknowledging they were out it, the Bulls reportedly agreed Wednesday to a five-year deal with Carlos Boozer, using much of the cap space intended for James.
Wade was closer to going home to Chicago, while trying to get custody of his sons who live there, in a divorce proceeding.
“Chicago, they have my heart,” Wade told ESPN’s Mike Wilbon after announcing he’d stay in Miami on Wednesday.
“It has my emotions. I get tearing up a little right now just thinking about the opportunity I had.”
Bosh’s motivation is harder to figure out. Known as a solid young man, he angered Toronto Raptors officials, sitting out the last five games, including the home loss to the Bulls that knocked them out of the playoffs, and gleefully tweeted updates while being recruited.
Considered the key to landing James, Bosh turned down a chance to go to Cleveland, which would have made the Cavaliers the beast of the East, with Toronto reportedly willing to trade him for J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao.
Bosh reportedly talked to the Bulls about taking less than the maximum — but only if Wade went there.
Instead, Bosh joined Wade in Miami, with little else on the roster and no assurance James would join them.
As for the other teams, they were always longhots to get James.
The Knicks landed Amare Stoudemire but would have had to renounce David Lee to sign James, leaving little else.
The Nets were on the list essentially as a courtesy to James’ pal, co-owner Jay-Z.
James included the Clippers, but their talent level wasn’t enough to persuade him to go against the Lakers all season.
Despite the bashing James is in for, he had every right to take his time, while his suitors twisted slowly in the wind, grumbling, as one official did, about “Mr. James’ timetable.”
James’ preference was always to stay in Cleveland, obliging him to wheel and deal, asking Stoudemire to seek a sign-and-trade to send him there after Bosh went thumbs down.
Now, does James wants to stay badly enough to return to Hickson, Varejao, Mo Williams, Delonte West and Anthony Parker?
If James seemed to be in over his head in this process, it’s not surprising for an insular 25-year-old with a tiny inner circle of former high school friends.
If staying was always a possibility, leaving should have made Chicago the choice as the likeliest place to win a title.
If he wanted glamour, the pick was arguably New York, alongside Stoudemire and Danilo Gallinari with another maximum slot next spring, rather than Miami, where James could wind up playing with Wade, Bosh, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, three rookies drafted in the second round and minimum-salary players.
Throwing everything in the air, the serenely confident James seemed to tip off an insecure side this week, starting a Twitter account, turning his announcement into a pageant — as if afraid of being forgotten.
Whatever LeBron has may be going around. Miami insiders think Wade and Bosh may have announced before him to one-up him.
Of course, narcissism is an occupational hazard for NBA superstars. ESPN is ESPN, the enabler of narcissists, which is, I believe, what the E and N stand for. It’s just what they do.