With the suspenseful, much anticipated, over-hyped announcement that LeBron James, the basketball superstar who has dwelled in the loser city of Cleveland for the seven years of his professional career, will take his free-agent talents to Miami and the Heat and join fellow superstar Dwyane Wade and slightly-lower-level star Chris Bosh, the table has been set for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to leave the Blue Devils and to begin his much wanted quest for basketball coaching infamy with a National Basketball Association championship to go with his NCAA titles and his Olympic gold medal.
What? LeBron going to Miami was all about Coach K? Not really. It’s just a by-product of a series of events that could culminate with Duke looking for a new head coach, something that would just happen sooner than later when Krzyzewski eventually retires, even though he’s just 63 years old now.
As someone who doesn’t have the NBA on his radar whatsoever, except to watch a few minutes of a game or two (I didn’t watch more than a minute of the season or playoffs this year), I took a little more than just a passing interest in James’ dilemma, if you call it that, of what to do with his free-agency situation. For anyone interested in sports, we knew this would be a big deal in one way or another. He has now surpassed Michael Jordan in NBA notoriety even without a league title.
When James decided to make his announcement, after days and weeks of being courted by six franchises, on a live broadcast on ESPN, The Decision escalated to worldwide leader in sports proportions. Leading up to it, nearly every ESPN (mother ship and other outlets) station hyped it. Colin Cowherd on his radio show which is also shown live on ESPNU was all over himself about it, getting excited at the mere idea of LeBron not only telling the world of his choice on live ESPN, but on how James would keep it quiet, as quiet can be, before saying the magic (oops, that’s another team that was not in the mix), before saying the heated (that’s more like it) words that would please many and disappoint more.
So, at 9:00 p.m. eastern daylight time, right after the weekly episode of Glee, a musical weekly television show that has 19 Emmy nominations, I dialed up 1500 on my Time Warner Cable-based television system and settled in for what turned out to be about 30 minutes of fluff followed by some interesting and much better questioning. Just prior to its start on the 42” Vizio, I was berated with, “I can’t believe you’re going to watch that! Who cares? It’s stupid. I’m going to bed to read.” And so I was left to listen and learn, just as if it was an election night and the results of the town council race in Angier was being flashed onto the screen while a new President was being chosen by the voters.
A couple of quick observations: Jim Gray, the initial interviewer designated by James, was weak, but I think his hands were tied by LeBron and his handlers who controlled the reality show. Maybe, maybe not, but Gray, a free-agent himself and not an ESPN employee, obviously followed somewhat of a scrip with the questions. While Gray was not exactly the Mike Wallace of last night, his effort or lack thereof was much better than what was offered in the first few minutes of the entire show by ESPN’s Stuart Scott, Chris Broussard, Jon Barry and Michael Wilbon, all of whom were convinced the choice would be Miami, but all of whom hedged their bets just enough to be able to say “I told you so” if LeBron picked the Knicks, the Nets, the Bulls, the Cavaliers or one other which I cannot remember or care to remember. Was it the Celtics? Oh yeah.
When LeBron made his dramatic announcement, which went something like, “I’m taking my talent to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat,” the interview with Gray ended shortly thereafter and Wilbon, an excellent Washington Post columnist and insightful NBAer, took over giving the viewers more of what was desired. I was more relieved to listen to that banter than to know where James was going to call basketball home for the next certain number of years.
I was also glad to hear that James passed up an additional $30 million he could have taken if he has stayed in Cleveland so he could join Wade and Bosh and claim his legacy through winning NBA titles and not just with his superior talent and his huge income. He wants to win championships and that admirable. I was also happy to know that the primary sponsor—University of Phoenix—of The Decision program was donating $500,000 and several additional scholarships to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Say what you want about uncaring, egotistical professional athletes, but I believe LeBron is unique in that he wants to share his wealth with those who need it and who need his attention. He is more about being the winner of titles (and playing with his Olympic teammates Wade and Bosh) than he is about the money or he would have stayed at home in Cleveland.
“You have to ask yourself,” said a friend in an email late last night, “if he’s dead set on championships being his main goal, why not play for the Lakers or Celtics for $5.00 a year?” No need to answer that one, but he’s got a good point, sort of. Well, not really.
On the other hand, I was extremely disappointed in his choice because I had it on good authority that he would sign with Kentucky to play for his friend John Calipari. The money would have been just as good, at the very least as much as he makes now. Which bring me to another email from last night: “Now that we know where LeBron is going to play, I’m just curious if anyone has heard where Shavlik Randolph may be playing next year?” That’s not really relevant but…
That brings us back to Coach K and his new opening to coach in the NBA, specifically at Miami. As it turns out, on good authority, Krzyzewski is pretty good friends with Micky Arison, the Israeli-American (born in Tel Aviv in 1949) who is Chairman and CEO of Carnival Corporation (world’s largest cruise operator) and who owns the Miami Heat. His father, Ted, was instrumental in getting the Heat to Miami. And, Micky Arison’s son, Nick, who is now one of Micky’s limited partners in the Heat, was once a manager for the Duke basketball team coaches by Krzyzewski.
While Pat Riley, the team’s president who was instrumental in getting Wade to return to Miami and James and Bosh to move to Miami, appears to be headed back to the bench so he can coach the threesome, I’ll go out on a long limb and say that if Riley returns to the bench, it’ll be short lived, maybe a year or two and then hands will be extended by Arison (both Micky and Nick) and by James, Wade and Bosh to Krzyzewski to give him the opportunity to work again with these three members of his Olympic gold-medal team but this time for an NBA title. Mike will celebrate his 64th birthday next February; I can imagine, just after he turns 65, he could be celebrating an NBA ring. The King has spoken. The table has been set.