Commentary

The LeBron James campaign

Politicians need to step down, leave free-agency stumping to fans

Updated: June 7, 2010, 12:57 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

Memo to Political America: Gimme my free-agent frenzy back.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesLeBron James has shown at least passing interest in politics, watching President Barack Obama's inauguration. But until he's running for office, maybe the politicians can back off.

You don't have to apologize. You do not have to justify or explain. Just lay down the microphone, turn away from the camera, back off the interview, take a deep breath and return to your busy life governing (insert city/state/nation/superpower here) with your usual aplomb. We sports geeks will take it from here. We're better at it than you are.

No hard feelings! Now pack your junk and get out.

The LeBron James sweepstakes -- and perhaps this was inevitable -- has become a political free-for-all. It gets weirder the longer you linger, not that weird isn't a little fun. If it isn't Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland unclogging his pipes on the musical wonder that is Cleveland's "Please Stay LeBron" video, it's the president of the United States, first gently nudging James in the direction of his Chicago Bulls and then backtracking (Caution! Political movement ahead!) to say that, really, Cleveland would be great, too.

Now comes the topper, although you hesitate to ever use "topper" in conjunction with politics, in which a new topper is always possible. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a video presentation imploring LeBron to choose either the Knicks or the Nets, drops the following: "As the good book says, lead us to the promised land. And that's a quote from the King James version!"

Wow, really? Any other questions about why LeBron is fast becoming the most self-entitled player in NBA history?

[+] EnlargeLeBron Banner
AP Photo/Mark DuncanThe campaign is in full swing in Cleveland. Are elected officials helping, hindering or insignificant?

You can't blame James for much of this. The man is a remarkably good basketball player, with superior marketing skills, surrounded by a team of people determined to squeeze the entertainment industry for every drop of juice that can be had. James' presence could transform a wayward NBA franchise the way it transformed the Cavaliers, and on that basis alone, his free agency is legitimately a sensation. It makes sense.

But the injection of the political aspect takes the James watch into hyperbolic overdrive. Can't I just have Stuart Scott tell me what a big deal this is? What, I need Bloomberg or President Barack Obama to validate the bloodlust surrounding James' next mega-million-dollar deal?

Sports does hyperbole so well, the industry really doesn't need to bring in outside help. James' Services Across the States tour is all amped up on its own. Nike, for example, spent a little of Friday knocking down a report that it planned to special-issue a pair of LeBron shoes for each of the cities James visits during the free-agency wooing process, while NBA commissioner David Stern went to lengths at the Lakers-Celtics series to say he has been assured there will not be any formal meeting of James and the league's other top free-agent stars this offseason.

The idea that James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and perhaps others would sit down to collectively plot out their futures is on Stern's radar. While the commissioner says players talking to players about such things is perfectly common, he'll be watching for -- but not expecting -- any signs of market tampering. But the mere thought that James and the free-agent class possess that much clout is newsworthy all on its own.

[+] EnlargeBloomberg
AP Photo/David GoldmanNets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, left, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and Nets co-owner Jay-Z sat down last month for breakfast. Do you think they discussed LeBron?

James and his people did their part to keep the hyperbolic chamber humming last week, using "Larry King Live," of all places, to deposit the player's first formal interview since the Cavaliers' season ended. As Stern himself said, "We're really up there now with Bill Gates, President Obama and Lady Gaga. How can you beat that trifecta, to add LeBron James to that?"

Stern spoke tongue in cheek, the way he addresses a lot of these kinds of questions lately. Behind the twinkle in the commissioner's eye is the real notion that show business is sports, and vice versa. Look, LeBron played H-O-R-S-E with King, I guess because Carol Channing wasn't available. How serious can this stuff really be?

Answer: Not too terribly serious. It makes for light reading, LeBron's free-agent frenzy -- and the man isn't even technically on the market yet. Who needs the political arena when we've got the NBA circus right in front of us? Note to the pols: We've got our King James version. Go find your own.

Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His most recent book, "Six Good Innings," was named one of the top 10 sports books of 2009 by Booklist. Reach him at mark@markkreidler.com.

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