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Friday, May 23, 2003
King James' reign

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

So LeBron King James is going to be a Cleveland Cavalier.

&*?!%ing great.

Gordon Gund, Russ Granik
Thursday wasn't the lottery, it was King James' coronation.
Dog here. R-Dub racked out with a headache, after the Knicks didn't get LeBron, and were buried at No. 9 in the lottery, but not before asking, "Between this, and Clyde's reincarnation as J-Kidd, for the g&%#$@ed Nets, what's the sense of going on?"

Myself, I ain't one to live in the Land of Make Believe, like Dub. LeBron's in Cleveland, which in one way is the best place for him. In another way, it's the worse. How will his first year go?

Here's how.

First, for the people who say LeBron was LeBorn in hype, and this all reeks of public relations gimmick, like Annika Sorenstam at the Colonial reeks of public relations gimmick, hey, listen up. It's all a public relations gimmick, Jack. Getting you to come out to any stadium, stadium-seating multiplex, amusement park, arena or golf course venue to spend your loot on "attractions" is a gimmick, so please, gimmick me a break. Spectacle is what we do around here.

Cleveland ain't one of my stomping grounds, Dub's either, and I don't know everything there is to know about it, but I know LeBron is Messiah there. Gord Gund's franchise gained, what, maybe 50 mil in value, as soon as Russ Granik pulled out that piece of poster board with Cleveland's name on it.

Easily the best move by Cleveland since they drafted Jim Brown.

This makes the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame small potatoes.

Jim Thome Who?

LeBron is more popular than the governor of Ohio. And he may be more influential. He's what they call a revenue-generator. If this was Minnesota, he'd be a combination of Jesse the Body Ventura, Prince, Randy Moss, the Wild, the Twins, ice hockey and fishing.

Only Ohio ain't Minnesota. Ohio ain't no place. But it is now.

The next time LeBron James sees Gordon Gund, he should smile, shake his hand, and say, "Whatzup, partner?" Was Gund nervous last night or what? Good thing Tirico didn't ask him any questions beforehand. He looked like a man who needed a reprieve from the governor -- and then got one. "We don't know who we're going to pick," he said right afterward. Even the lottery losers laughed.

LeBron James
LeBron says he's excited to play in Cleveland. Well, $90 million can put you in a good mood.
In the raw ball sense, Van Gundy has to put him on the ball. Van Gundy's a real piece of work. Laid in the cut, showed the Gunds a little of his hairy little leg, but he wouldn't commit to going to bed with them until he saw where LeBron was going. Not that I blame Van Gundy. He reminds me of a much, much smaller version of Abe Vigoda as Tessio in "The Godfather." It's the smart move. Van Gundy was always smarter. I don't blame him, but R-Dub does, for riding Patrick all those years, then bailing on the Knicks when it got tough. But that was the move to make, to me; he's figured out How To Become An NBA Coaching Legend, by Phil Jackson and Charley Rosen. Start with Michael Jordan, Shaq and Kobe, LeBron James. You can figure out the rest of it on the fly, basically.

Anywhere else, you could ease LeBron in there from 2 guard. But in Cleveland, you've got to put him on the ball, right now, at point, then live and die with him. Mostly, you'll live. Van Gundy knows how to suck up properly to the superstar, whereas I don't know if Larry Brown or Paul Silas do, necessarily. And that's not a knock against them. That's in admiration of them, really. I wouldn't be surprised to see both of them standing in line for the job of Getting Everything Out of LeBron (And Getting Rich at the Same Time). LeBron may go through a coach before everything's on line. Either way, my money's on Van Gundy. He knows the game, and the score too. He coaching and his suck-up skills are beyond reproach.

Frankly, I've never seen anything like LeBron at this age. DeJuan Wagner, Ricky Davis, Darius Miles, Zydrunas -- they all are what you call "trade bait" right now. Bait? Try chum line.

Unless, of course, they make their baller peace with LeBron.

You think LeBron James is going to be carrying bags like a normal rookie? In the first place, the Cavs don't have normal vets. They're all spoiled, gifted, Nellyfied bastard children of an unholy alliance between Li'l Kim, Eminem and Fifty Cent. At least, they thought they were spoiled and gifted children, but LeBron's going to show them what a spoiled and gifted child is really like.

LeBron's got a 90 mil shoe deal already, he's the admitted Savior of hoop in Cleveland already, and he's going for some casual and ridiculous rookie hazing offered up from a bunch of unkempt and uncombed hood rats? In his spot? I don't think so. I'm pretty sure by the time camp comes around, LeBron won't think so either.

Competitively, there'll be nights when LeBron's going to die at point ... but not at the gate. They're printing season tickets with LeBron's name on them, like money, even as we speak.

Babies will be named after LeBron at Cleveland hospitals.

Nuns and clergymen will work LeBron into their Sunday text.

Groupies will lay in extra cosmetics and order new Ab Blasters.

Play-by-play and color men will polish up their resumes.

Image consultants will get ugly in the face trying to meet him.

LeBron James, Tracy McGrady
It's all hugs now, but during the season Tracy won't show any mercy.
Execs at Weiden & Kennedy will dry out many Sharpie pens, working up their clever ideas on storyboards.

LeBron will guest-star in an ESPN original programming movie directed by Spike Lee and co-written by Todd Kessler, who helped pen episodes of "The Sopranos." (Dub about guaranteed that one.)

Cleveland-area NBA maven Terry Pluto will get a new lease on life. Expect four books, minimum, from impeccable Mr. Pluto on The Importance of Being LeBron over the next 10 years or so.

Hotels and restaurants will enjoy a Rennaisance. Plans are being drawn as we speak for: "LeBron's Eatery," the place to see and be seen -- hopefully by LeBron, if you're a highly cosmetic groupie.

Halle Berry and her husband, Whatshisname, will sit courtside at Gund Arena for at least three Cavalier home games. LeBron will dribble the ball off his toes at least once stealing glances at her.

Liquor sales in the Flats will spike during the season, win or lose.

All around the league, when Cleveland comes in, it'll be like the circus has come to town on Christmas; LeBron doubles attendance at all Cavalier road games, at the very least. His life will become one big sellout, and he'll find that he has to deliver. He'll develop stomach problems, or just keep it simple the way Bill Russell used to, and vomit it all up before each game, and be done with it. Can't be holding all them nerves and that poison in. Angers up the gut.

LeBron will find out quickly that he needs a staff. Well, whether he needs one or not, he'll have a staff. A big staff. In fact, if this was the Iraq, they'd call LeBron's staff, "The 101st Airborne."

Let's see, a masseuse, a self-visualization and actualization guru, a team of "boys," a company of "peeps," a trio of pilots, two French "maids," a private jet in a pear tree, a chef, a buyer, a "security" detail -- and that's just the staff his mom will be needing.

On court, it'll take time to figure out the deal. It'll feel like the end of the high school season to him by, oh, say, early December. He'll only have 60-odd more games to play by then; that's not counting playoffs, and we might have to count the first round of playoffs the very first year. He'll need a vacation by May, and the thing is, he'll be able to afford one. Hell, he'll be able to afford Cincinnati.

Then there's the Ref Factor: He can't be blaming them, like the fans or the lesser rung players do; he can't befriend them either. Dickie Bavetta may be there one more go-round. LeBron could learn from him about superstars not always getting the call in their home building. Yeah, during the regular season the ref pool isn't as deep, but toward the end of the playoffs, you stop noticing the refs, they're doing such a good job of running the game, and letting the players decide the game, and just basically saying, "Play on," which is their best call, unless a player gains an advantage through fouling. Just watch the Joey or Danny Crawfords, and Play On.

Don't forget the Hater Factor.

To me, LeBron's got to work with the Haters, give them their props; by doing so, he'll take the play away from them. And there will be plenty LeBron Haters, even tucked away in Cleveland. Don't ask me why. Humans is contrary, is all I can figure.

Then there's the Duels. Oh, he's gonna have battles the first year. He's gonna get called out everywhere he goes. Everybody will wanna be the Guy Who Busted Up LeBronski. Jerome "Junkyard Dog" Williams of the Raptors has already called him out.

I give him one broken nose, minimum, the first year, several nicks, a few muscle pulls and strains, a rolled-up ankle, and many, many fingernail scratches along his upper arms and neck.

Kobe, Alley I and T-Mac won't want to serve him with 50, will they? Like hell they won't. I don't care that LeBron will be playing point. Who's going to guard those wicked 2 guards? DeJuan. Him and who else, the 101st? What about the hatchet men? Good way to make a name for yourself, smashing King James. If I were LeBron, I'd tell the Cavs, "Forget the new unis, forget ordering up a special No. 23 for me. Get me Mailman, Charles Oakley and a stout club."

LeBron James
King James has the attitude and the ride -- all that's left is the posse.
That'll chill out some of the LeBron Haters. Them few that matter.

So LeBron "King" James ends up averaging 18 points and seven or eight assists his first year, and he'll make the All-Star team, and there will be gallons of ink used in his name and on his visage.

Rebounds? We'll have to see how he responds to the fire beneath the NBA backboards. It's easier to get numbers when you're on the ball, that much is for sure. Gotta play point. At point, he's already Rook of the Year. Mark Jackson was once Rookie of the Year, playing point. I rest my case. Playing without the ball is tougher; takes time to learn. He'll learn, but not by the end of next year. But he will average 18, and dish out some seriously highlighted dimes, and the Cavaliers can't help but be better with him; without him, they were the Cleveland DoDo Birds, on the road to extinction.

If he saves that franchise, which I'm thinking he already has, maybe he won't end up getting screwed in return in the end.

That's the rub, though. There is no way you can give any 18-year-old a fat-assed $90 mil contract for endorsing sneakers, and more seven-figure loot for the same balling he's been doing all his life for free, treat him like God, not a god, but God, and roll over for him, and bark, and not expect him to become arrogant, spoiled, overbearing, all the things Michael Jordan became on his way to being the Greatest Baller in history, then the most serious dupe in the NBA. So when I asked Dub's boy, Jay-B, a former Cleveland star, what advice he would give to LeBorn, Jay-B said, "None."

See, everybody LeBron meets from now on, at least through his first season as Cleveland's Cavalier, and Messiah, will either be asking him for something, or looking to give him some advice.

Here's hoping he comes factory equipped with a helluva hot-and-foul air filter. If not ... the Cavs and Cleveland will still take him.

I would. You?

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."