Monday, September 14, 2009

Staying or going? Say something, LeBron ...

Staying or going, I wish LeBron James would say.

Those words will be pulling at James, as they did last season, deep into the coming NBA season like a tugboat. He keeps evading questions about what his intentions are as if he were Osama bin Laden.

James had a chance to put the question to bed last month when he premiered his film at a convention in Tampa. He didn’t.

He left Tampa with his future as a Cavalier just as uncertain as ever. Yeah, yeah, Northeast Ohio has been good to him, he claims. He loves it here; these are his people; this is his town; this is his team. He says so all the time.

In New York City tomorrow, James debuts his book "Shooting Stars" -- an as-told-to autobiography of his rise from Akron, Ohio, to global fame -- in an NBA mega-market that longs for a star to match Kobe Bryant. James, a free agent after next season, is the city's target, and he does nothing to dispel the notion.

But if he prefers the night lights of Broadway, just so say; end this maddening guessing game. Take his global aspirations to a market that can sate it. If it's not Cleveland, the region can live without him.

James knows the Knicks or the Nets, by NBA rules, can't pay him as much as the Cavaliers can. Even if one of those teams could, no community can lavish as much love on him as Northeast Ohio does. He’s the region's prodigal son, and the community would like nothing better, aside from the Browns winning the Super Bowl, than to see James stay beyond the 2009-10 season.

All the reasons for him staying here make sense. He’s all he can be here: rich, famous and an untouchable brand, an icon. He’s the face of a region that has basked in his worldwide stature.

People in Cleveland grow impatient. They say James owes them an answer, because the longer he holds off without giving one, they fear he’ll break their hearts as Jim Thome, Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez did when they left for a bigger stage.

What stage can be big enough for a global personality like James?

He would be ungodly famous even if he played in Boise, Idaho. He doesn’t need Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles or Miami to remain the league’s pinup boy. Yet maybe all the kind words James says about his hometown aren’t really as important to him as standing in Madison Square Garden and hearing New Yorkers cheer his play.


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