National Basketball Association
Obsession with LeBron out of control
National Basketball Association

Obsession with LeBron out of control

Published Jun. 10, 2010 4:37 p.m. ET

Derek Fisher, who at 36, was supposed to be finished, hits four fourth-quarter baskets to help the Lakers beat the Celtics in the NBA Finals, and then starts weeping on national television.

Remember that? Chances are, you don’t. I mean, most fans’ attention has already turned to more important matters. Like LeBron James’ impending free agency.

That’s not to say this national obsession with a ring-less sneaker icon — now in its third or fourth year and building to a peak — doesn’t come at a price. I fear that King James, and the mercantile interests who crowned him, have diminished his subjects. Real fans have been reduced to mere fantasy geeks.

Will he? Won’t he? Where? Which city is willing to make a bigger collective ass of itself?


Out here in Los Angeles, Clippers fans — all 47 of them — took to the streets.

A billboard in the Windy City reads: "Chicago Wants LeBron Unfinished Business." Catchy, huh?

Cleveland released a video. New York, which has a peculiar need to out-Cleveland Cleveland, responded by releasing its own video. The city’s ad agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, even came up with a slogan for the campaign: “C’mon LeBron.”

C’mon LeBron? C’mon this. Hearing Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who grew up in the suburbs of Boston — go on about Willis Reed and Clyde Frazier makes me fear for those long-suffering natives still trapped in the city of my birth. Yes, I’m old enough to remember when New York was a basketball town.

Of course, Bloomberg’s expertise is money, and he would argue that LeBron will put a lot in the city’s coffers (never mind how much the wooing of LeBron has already cost, what with two Knicks’ seasons effectively cancelled). Then again, even the King himself has said he is not to be seen as any municipality’s savior.

“As far as saving the city economically, I can’t get too involved,” he told Larry King. “I can’t let that be a decision of mine or what I do with my future.”

It stands to reason. I mean, who needs that pressure? If you can’t get a team with Shaq and Antawn Jamison into the Eastern Conference Finals, how can you be expected to get people off breadlines?

So let’s not get carried away. Even Nike denied reports that it would be coming out with a new shoe to commemorate James’ visit to each city on his free-agent tour. Leave it to Nike to keep things in perspective. Still, why do I get this feeling that there would’ve been a new shoe for each day of the week if only James were still playing.

But he’s not — which makes this even crazier. … He told Larry King … ? Really, who says satire is dead? A guy with a consigliere who goes by Worldwide Wes is being courted by Bloomberg, a Russian billionaire and, if reports are to be believed, David Geffen.

Dan Gilbert, who, despite some ferocious competition, is quickly becoming the biggest clown owner in sports, swears that LeBron had nothing to do with the firing of Mike Brown or the resignation of Danny Ferry. What other reason is there to fire the NBA’s winningest coach these last two seasons? And why else would his boss — a guy who improved the roster each season — quit? Everybody knew Brown was dead by the postgame presser after Game 6 in Boston, what with James’ lavish praise for the Celtics gameplan.

Now each day seems to yield news of ever-interesting coaching candidates, each of them fantasy picks: John Calipari, Phil Jackson, Mike Krzyzewski, Larry Brown, Tom Izzo (By next week it wouldn’t surprise me to read that John Wooden is making a comeback). They have different backgrounds, different philosophies of the game, but these musings revolve around the same potential qualification: the ability to make LeBron happy.

Making LeBron Happy. It’s sweeping the nation, our newest fantasy sport. Anybody who plays qualifies as an expert. Accomplishment is considered less important than potential. Branding is considered a higher value than winning. The Entourage, long considered the scourge of superstars everywhere, is glorified in books and film.

Meanwhile, there’s real basketball being played between the Lakers and the Celtics. Only three games have been played in a pretty good championship round, but I’ve already settled on an MVP. That would be Kobe Bryant.

He’s had a rough couple of games. He had foul trouble on Sunday, and shot 10-for-29 on Tuesday. But he comes out after each game with dark glasses and a righteous contempt. It was in gloriously full effect the other day when he was cornered by the New York Post.

“You’re asking me if LeBron is going to New York?” he said. “I’m trying to tell you in a polite way, I don’t give a s---.”


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