[from The A.V. Club Chicago / June 18, 2010]
He’s the greatest basketball player since you-know-who and, after seven seasons marked by varying degrees of failure and heartbreak with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, megastar forward LeBron James hits the free-agent market this summer. Several teams—the Cavaliers, the New Jersey Nets, and the New York Knicks—have emerged for wildly different reasons as early favorites to win the LeBronathon. Even as speculation runs wild over where he’ll land, The A.V. Club already knows the answer—and so, too, if he knows what’s good for him, does LeBron James. Here’s why.
The Bulls have the personnel to win right now.
Every serious contender for James’ services has question marks, but the only unknown hanging over the Bulls is whether or not guard Ronald Murray will give up the number-six jersey. (Prediction: Yes.) Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov can make all the crazy promises he wants, but his team is still coming off the fourth-worst NBA season ever. New Yorkers can offer up sacrificial bagels in hopes James will swoop in to rescue their sorry team, but even the best player in the league can’t save the Knicks just yet—at least, not without the Knicks performing a miracle.
The Bulls, on the other hand, already have a playoff-caliber roster anchored by Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, and this spring’s skirmish between general manager John Paxson and head coach Vinny Del Negro proved management loves the team to the point of unrivaled psychosis. Throw in new head coach and championship-winning defensive wiz Tom Thibodeau, and the victory rallies start planning themselves.
The Bulls and LeBron can make each other immortal.
Yes, the Bulls won a ridiculous number of titles during the Jordan/Pippen era, but those are also the Bulls’ only titles; the six trophies in the United Center might say “Chicago Bulls,” but everyone knows the hardware really belongs to Michael. The Knicks’ low payroll may allow them to offer a richer contract, but all James would be left to do as a basketball player is clean up Isiah Thomas’ mess. Signing with the Bulls would finally give the team a post-Jordan championship while James becomes a player who did what only Michael had done before him. The Bulls become a franchise for the ages, while James becomes rightful heir to His Airness’ throne; when the LeBron James-led Bulls win, everyone wins.
Not much in Cleveland suits a young man on the rise.
Forbes recently illustrated in graphic detail the ongoing Cleveland-to-Chicago exodus, and the U.S. Census Bureau reports the Cleveland metropolitan area as losing more residents than all but two others since 2000. Joakim Noah’s misguided wisecracking aside, with so many of his neighbors on the move, perhaps the time is at hand for Mr. James to realize the most popular basketball player in Cleveland is the spiritual cousin of the last mayor of Atlantis. Chicago, still above water, awaits with open arms.