LeBron must decide if it’s time to leave home

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, June 30, 2010

CLEVELAND (AP) — As he dressed in his spacious corner locker, LeBron James glanced over at the news scrolling across the flat-screen TV on the far wall. The ticker read: “NBA: Kobe Bryant signs three-year contract extension with Los Angeles Lakers.”

Buttoning his shirt following the game in April, roughly one month before his quest for a championship would end awkwardly and two months before becoming The Free Agent Of All Free Agents, James wasn’t a bit surprised.

“Did anyone really think he was leaving?” he asked incredulously. “Kobe’s been there since he was like 17. That’s his home. He wasn’t going anywhere.”

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Hmm. Sound like someone you know, ’Bron?

The league’s MVP grinned and bit his top lip. Not saying.

Soon enough, we’ll have his answer.

At the heart of James’ impending free agency, a moment of controlled chaos hyped beyond anything in recent sports memory, is one underlying question: Can he move away from the only place he has ever known?

James hits the market at 12:01 a.m. Thursday as the valedictorian of this historic 2010 free-agent class. He might have already decided where he’ll dribble, drive and dunk next. Even if he has, he’s still going to listen to offers and can’t sign with anyone until July 8.

Depending on whom you believe, the soon-to-be No. 6 is either headed to New York to resurrect the sorry Knicks; or to New Jersey to plot global domination with rap mogul pal Jay-Z and Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov; or to Chicago to follow Michael Jordan’s magnificence; or to Miami to join Olympic teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a terrifying trifecta; or to Dallas where he could play with buddy Jason Kidd and watch his beloved Cowboys all the time.

Or, he’ll stay in Ohio, kick back in the 40,000-square-foot palace he built not far from the Akron streets where he was raised and continue to play for the Cavaliers.

Right now, nobody knows.

In a guessing game changing by the minute, one thing is certain: James’ decision will be made by one person — LeBron Raymone James.

He has listened to his advisers, consulted with friends, former coaches, Nike bigwigs, gazillionaire Warren Buffett and others of influence. But James and only James will make the final choice before signing on the dotted line.

What’s he going to do?

“What’s best for him and his family,” teammate Shaquille O’ Neal said before the Cavs’ postseason collapsed in a second-round loss to Boston. “He’s 25, but he’s something I’ve really never seen before.”

There’s never been anyone like him — or anything like this.

Never before has one player carried such clout into free agency. Despite never winning a championship — or even one game in the finals — James has the league bowing at his expensive sneakers. The anticipation of his league-tilting decision has caused an information feeding frenzy only rivaled by Tiger Woods’ sex scandal.

Teams have revamped their rosters for him, with Chicago and Miami doing the most maneuvering.

Cities have spent big bucks campaigning for him, calculating the economic impact of his arrival, or in Cleveland’s case, a possible departure.

Corporate jets will descend upon Northeast Ohio in the coming days, loaded with teams hoping to lure James away. The Nets’ delegation led by Prokhorov, Jay-Z, new coach Avery Johnson and outgoing president Rod Thorn will make their sales pitch first, followed by the Knicks and at least four other teams.