The first time basketball superstar LeBron James ditched his home town Cleveland Cavaliers for free agency, we had to find out about it in a made for TV special, and the basketball world eagerly watched. That was eight years ago. This time, before the television talkers could even get their summer NBA specials together, he made the announcement, and he's off to LA to play for the Lakers.
You may remember “the decision.” James, in an exclusive interview with Jim Gray, announced he would “take his talents to South Beach”, and join his buddy Dwyane Wade, and win “not one, not two, not three” championships. This time, it apparently took a knock on the door by Magic Johnson, a two-hour conversation, and James would be wearing purple and gold. Oh, and 154 million dollars over four years doesn't hurt either.
In the National Basketball Association, free agents can't sign with teams until the league's new year begins. That date is July 1, and apparently July 1 at 12:01am Eastern time. James has a home in Los Angeles, and as is being reported, his doorbell rang at 9:01pm Pacific, precisely the moment negotiations could begin. You have to wonder how long the Laker legend, and current president was standing outside before ringing the bell—kind of like a nervous teenager picking up his prom date.
If you believe that story, then you have to think Magic is one sweet talker. You certainly think he can be, and that pretty expensive corsage, er, contract, that he brought with him could have done some of the talking for him. Of course, James may have been persuaded awhile ago to join the Lakers and become the savior of the franchise, but that would be tampering under league rules, and that would be wrong.
At least we were saved several days worth of drama. The big “decision” to go to Miami in 2010 was made a week into free agency. James is no stranger to hype, and there was hype everywhere, and hype that he created. He alienated many fans in Cleveland, but having been let down before, fans in Ohio seemed prepared this time. The franchise, despite getting to the finals four straight years and winning one with LeBron, is in disarray, and James didn't seem to want to stick around to fix it. It's been somber in Cleveland, but no burning of jerseys like we saw last time.
Meanwhile, in La La Land, the local newspaper is proclaiming James to be the best player to ever wear a Laker uniform, and he hasn't even played a game yet. That headline is a hook to get you to think that maybe James is the best player ever, and whether you agree with that or not, he's certainly in the conversation. James wears number 23 because Michael Jordan wore it, but his game resembles Magic Johnson's (some say better). Kobe was a Laker, Kareem was a Laker, Wilt was a Laker. James may only be there a few years, and end up with his jersey hanging in the rafters with the rest of those guys.
If you are stunned by the announcement, you shouldn't be. Maybe that it came so quickly, but the Lakers have been gambling on this for years. They've gone five straight seasons without making the playoffs, and it's not a stretch to say they've been tanking seasons, to create more salary cap space, and to get high draft picks (note: tanking does not mean players or coaches losing on purpose, it means management not putting their franchises in positions to win. If you think teams in the NBA, or in baseball, or other sports don't tank, you are sadly mistaken). The plan was James and a couple other high price pieces, but as long as they get James, the rest is flexible. Palmdale native Paul George elected to stay in Oklahoma City, and reports are that the Lakers would like to trade for unhappy San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. Today, not much more than 12 hours after Magic's doorbell ring, the Lakers renounced Julius Randle, and signed point guard Rajon Rondo, with more moves likely coming.
It's funny that the so-called NBA insiders were saying that the free agent market would be at a standstill until James made his announcement. It's been made, and now the rush is on. Including by Laker fans to the ticket window.
Group session: By the time Magic has lunch with LeBron tomorrow, the World Cup soccer tournament will be down to eight teams. Brazil defeated Mexico today, defending champ Germany didn't make it out it out of the group stage, and host Russia ousted Spain after 30 minutes of extra time, followed by penalty kicks. In the group stage, there was just one 0-0 tie, and it was between France and Denmark—two teams that were going to advance anyway. All 32 teams scored at least two goals in their three games, with Belgium scoring the most (9). Uruguay didn't allow any, and Panama gave up 10 (6 to England).
Racquet ball: If you aren't interested in soccer (it's okay), or baseball (seriously?), there is tennis. Today was the first day of 'The Championships' at the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. You and I just call it Wimbledon.
Who IS this guy?: That's the question Dodger radio broadcaster Charley Steiner asked tonight after calling a majestic home run who he said was hit by Max Muncy. Muncy, who was an unknown to Dodger fans going into this season, leads the club in homers, but the long ball called by Steiner was actually hit by Joc Pederson. The call turned out to be more prophetic than pathetic, however. Muncy was the next hitter, and put one in the seats—his 18th home run of the year.
"Photo" by flurrysports.com.