The Home Team / "The LBJ sweepstakes"
If you hear those initials, and it brings to mind a crusty, long-nosed Texan often remembered for sending American soldiers off to war, then you're not a New York-area sports fan. These days, LBJ means LeBron James -- and with his long-awaited free agency coming up in just two weeks, the vision of King James in a Knicks jersey is one that has all of New York salivating.
The frenzy goes well beyond basketball nuts. Earlier this week I was listening to CBS Radio news, and caught a segment of The Good Life Report. It was an item about an estate in the New York metropolitan area selling for upwards of $60 million, and one of the prospective buyers was reportedly a superstar athlete "who may or may not be coming to New York."
The whole city's waiting. In fact, I'm starting to get the uneasy feeling that every self-respecting local sports fan is dying to see LeBron in the Big Apple -- except for, maybe ... me?
Don't get me wrong. I'm a lifelong, diehard Knicks addict. I don't stop watching games unless we're down by more than 20 with less than two minutes to go. I literally expect a "W" before each and every contest, even when we play the Lakers or the Celtics, and even though we haven't had a winning season in the last nine. In my younger years, while staying at a hotel in South Jersey that didn't pick up any New York stations, I drove 30 miles to my father-in-law's house in Margate just to watch the last quarter of a Knicks-Clippers game!
Which is to say I really care. And I want to be caught up in The LeBron Watch, as it's breathlessly billed in all the local papers. But I have some misgivings -- most of them stemming from my old-school, purist outlook on sports. (My youngest son, more of a pragmatist in these matters, suggests that with championships at stake, maybe I ought to take my old-school principles and shove `em.)
For better or worse, here are my gripes:
"¢ I happen to agree with the sentiment from the hinterlands that the big-market teams (read: especially teams from New York!) shouldn't be allowed to just go out and buy a championship; they should have to earn it.
"¢ Likewise, I buy into that romantic, old-fashioned notion of building a team through home-grown talent -- like the Minnesota Twins, with their Joe Mauers and their Justin Morneaus -- rather than winning with imported mercenaries.
"¢ It seems to me the championship Knicks teams of the past (all right, the distant past) were all about team. If King James arrives as the sun, the moon, and the stars, I'm not sure where that's going to leave the team concept.
"¢ I've already been hearing about some of LeBron's "preferences" -- such as playing for a coach who's been a player in the NBA. Any team that gets LeBron is going to have to answer to LeBron -- and I'm not in love with the idea of my star player running team operations.
"¢ There are other free agents out there who I'd love to see playing for the Knicks -- Dwyane Wade, for one. (Amar'e Stoudemire would also look pretty good in blue-and-orange.)
"¢ I resent the way the Knicks opted to basically "forfeit" the past two years, all but dumping games, as they shed their few decent players to clear salary cap room in the hopes of landing The Chosen One.
"¢ LeBron's a Cleveland guy. (Well, actually, Akron.) He's made that franchise, and Cleveland deserves to keep its hometown hero. James should be to Cleveland as Ripken was to Baltimore, and as Jeter is to New York.
"¢ Don't laugh -- but gaining LeBron apparently means losing David Lee, my current favorite Knick. I don't even pretend to understand cap machinations and max salary limits, but the bottom line, from what I gather, is that we can't have our cake and eat it, too.
"¢ And I'm not even going to reference LeBron's Game Five Vanishing Act in the Boston series -- but it was kind of scary to watch.
I will happily concede that LeBron James is a freak of nature. He's one of the strongest, most gifted athletes I've ever laid eyes on. He might well be the second-best basketball player on the planet. (Yeah, Kobe, you've finally convinced me on who's number one.) Still, there's a lot about New York's pursuit of King James that rubs me the wrong way. Not all of it's logical, but I'm old-school; logic's not my strong suit.
Will I really be disappointed if all of New York gets its wish, and LeBron comes to the Garden? I seriously doubt it. Chances are I'll forget all my qualms the moment I witness his first monster jam for the home team, and rejoice with the rest of Knicks Nation. But if we don't get him, I think I'll find a way to muddle through.
Westporter Hank Herman shares his Home Team column every other Friday in the Westport News.