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Point-Counterpoint: Should LeBron stay or go?

<ong>James should bolt to the Knicks – By David Sacks

The million dollar question asked everywhere from ESPN to late night talk shows to The New York Times is where LeBron James will sign as a free agent on July 1st. James, in a little over a month, will start the most highly anticipated free agency of recent memory, and the speculation has already begun. Fans in Cleveland are begging him to re-sign with his hometown team, while Chicago and New York are giddy with excitement that the best player in the NBA might sign with them for the rest of his career.  LeBron should make the hard but right decision for his career and sign with the New York Knicks.

LeBron’s roots are unquestionably in Cleveland.  He has lived in Akron since birth and has played basketball in that area his whole life.  His friends and family live near him, and in Cleveland he is seen as someone who can do no wrong.  He is not even criticized for his bad performances. This year, after a couple terrible games in the second round, fans were too scared to criticize his production – for fear that he might feel spurned and not re-sign with the team. 

This bubble of protective fans and media that LeBron has created in Cleveland is not conducive for his maturity as a player or as a person. Great players don’t like being told what they’re doing right, they want to know what they are doing wrong and how they can improve.  If LeBron James were a New York Knick, the back page of the New York Post and New York Daily News would have let him know about it. Fans would call into sports radio stations and talk about how star players can’t have games like that in the playoffs.  Fans at Madison Square Garden would not be afraid to boo him.  While this seems like tough treatment, great athletes like LeBron use this as motivation to get better and ensure that this never happens again. 

When Alex Rodriguez signed with the Yankees, he had to endure criticism that he was not a “clutch” performer who could produce in the postseason. He was booed at home games and every media outlet let him know what the public perception of him was. Last year Rodriguez harnessed this in the postseason, hitting a remarkable .365 with six homeruns and helping the Yankees win a championship.  If LeBron put himself in the New York spotlight, which is unparalleled in pressure, he would become a better and tougher player.

LeBron James made it clear after the Cavaliers were eliminated from the postseason that he wants to go to a team that can win.  If James ever wants to be compared to Michael Jordan or the other great players of the NBA, he needs championships.  His supporting cast in Cleveland was exposed this year as being anything but supportive when LeBron is unable to carry the team.  Unfortunately, most of these players have expensive contracts and will be with the Cavaliers for the foreseeable future.  The Knicks, on the other hand, have cleared salary for two years anticipating this free agency period and can sign James as well as one other top player.  The Knicks represent a new dynamic, and sometimes change is necessary just for the sake of change. 

In addition to how signing with the Knicks will help him mature as a player and possibly win a championship, playing in New York also offers things that no other city can.  James will play on the biggest stage in the world every home game, and will become the most marketable athlete in the world.  He has expressed a desire to be the first billionaire athlete and he cannot achieve this in Cleveland.  In New York, Nike billboards will be all over the city, and there will be an even greater demand for anything he puts his name on, from shoes to clothes and jerseys.  He will be totally opened up to the world, and will complete his rise as a global superstar. 

There is no better place to win than New York – riding through the Canyon of Heroes surrounded by millions of fans and having the focus of the whole city on you.  New York immortalizes those who bring championships to the city, from Derek Jeter to Joe Namath and Mark Messier.  John D. Rockefeller and George Steinbrenner bolted Cleveland for New York and were pretty successful afterwards.  Now it’s time for another famous Clevelander to leave for the City. 

LeBron should stay in Cleveland – By Justin Rotman

The sports world’s biggest will-he-or-won’t-he since Michael Jordan unretired for the 35th time is about to descend upon America this summer. The impending free agency of basketball’s biggest star will bring more speculation, debate, and controversy than the NBA Finals and NBA Draft will combined. LeBron James, basketball’s immortal son, anointed by Sports Illustrated in high school as the “Chosen One” has to choose between loyalty or the Big Apple, roots or greener pastures, finishing what he started or bringing his championship goals elsewhere.

Since he came into the league in 2004, James has evolved into the game’s best all-around player and the league’s torchbearer for years to come. He has won MVPs, the Rookie of the Year, a scoring title, and been named to multiple all-star and all-NBA teams. Outside of individual success, James has won virtually nothing. When his Cleveland Cavaliers lost 94-85 to the Boston Celtics on May 13th, knocking Cleveland out of the playoffs, James had officially fulfilled his contract with the team, allowing him to enter the free agent market this summer and sign with whichever team he chooses. At this point, basically 5 teams seem to be in the mix: the Chicago Bulls, the New York Knicks, the New Jersey Nets, the Miami Heat, and…yes, Cleveland. LeBron has the decision of a lifetime to make, and although the lights are brighter in Chicago and New York, James should stay in Cleveland and build a legacy that cannot be touched.

 The first thing people bring up is obviously money. Money, money, money. LeBron can make this in New York, LeBron can make that in Chicago. Unlike the three other major professional sports leagues, the NBA has “maximum contracts” that cap the salary that a player can earn. Whether he signs with Chicago, New York, or (miraculously, inexplicably mind-blowing) the Timberwolves, LeBron will make about $17 million a year. And while he may make more money endorsing, pushing, talking, wearing everything from Nike to Bubblicious in New York, he’ll continue to do just fine for himself in Cleveland. Thanks to Tiger Woods, LeBron can now become the world’s first billionaire athlete, and he can still do it in Cleveland. He is the most marketable athlete this side of Tiger since Jordan, and a certain Cadillac Escalade and fire hydrant put a smashing end to Tiger’s reign on top. Even if he doesn’t gross a billion over his career, $900 million isn’t chump change. LeBron and his kids’ kids’ kids’ kids’ kids’ kids’ kids’ kids’ (and then some) will live pretty comfortably even if the Cavaliers relocate to Boise. LeBron does not go to the market. The market comes to LeBron.

 In this age of money, money, money, there’s one thing that LeBron can do that would speak volumes: stay in Cleveland. LeBron was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, 40 miles south of Cleveland. Hop on I-77, and it’s a 45-minute drive from Quicken Loans Arena to the house where James grew up. He played high school basketball at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and led the Irish to 3 Ohio State Championships and a National Championship his senior year, 3 months before the Cavaliers selected him with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. Instantly, James was heralded as the savior, the knight in shining armor that would carry Cleveland to its first major sports championship since the Johnson Administration. The Mistake by the Lake had been saved, and LeBron was Superman and Jesus Christ rolled into one. Fast forward to 2010, and LeBron has yet to deliver anything beyond personal achievements to the city. A 2007 NBA Finals sweep at the hand of the San Antonio Spurs is the close James has brought the Cavs, and they haven’t sniffed a title since.

 Lebron wants to be the greatest man to ever pick up a basketball, and consider the company he’s trying to keep: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell. With the exception of Jordan’s small stint with the Washington Wizards, every one of these players spent their entire careers with one team and is forever connected to that jersey and logo. The Chicago Bulls still haven’t gotten over their post-Jordan hangover, and that only speaks to Jordan’s Zeus-sized impact on all things Chicago and NBA during his time. If LeBron wants to be mentioned in the same sentence as these idols, it’s true he has to win championships. He cannot fail in 7 seasons in Cleveland and bolt to New York to get it done, though, That’s not how legends are made.

 It’s true that the Cavs have not surrounded LeBron with the pieces to win a championship. They have failed in that department and need to make radical changes if LeBron comes back. That being said, LeBron needs to deliver a championship to Cleveland to cement his legacy how he wants to. Just because it’s convenient doesn’t make it legendary. LeBron should be the real hometown hero. He should stay when no one else would. For himself, Clevelanders, and fans who love the game, this time Cleveland needs to be the “Chosen One.”

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