Heat, Clippers make pitches to LeBron
Team president Pat Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra, billionaire owner Micky Arison and former center Alonzo Mourning spent nearly three hours making their presentation to try to lure James, the NBA's most coveted free agent, to sunny South Florida.
The Heat's delegation arrived at 10:20 a.m. James showed up two minutes before the scheduled 11 a.m. meeting wearing a T-shirt, shorts and a backpack.
At 1:50 p.m., the Heat's representatives paraded through the lobby of the IMG building without saying a word. Before getting in their cars, they passed the Los Angeles Clippers' two-man contingent of acting general manager Neil Olshey and executive Andy Roeser.
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Olshey then joked that Riley went into overtime with James.
"Is Coach going to get fined for going over his allotted time?" Olshey asked a person who works for James. "Don't worry, we'll be short."
The Clippers wrapped up their meeting with James in about an hour. Olshey coached James at a summer camp before his senior year of high school. He knew back then James was a special player, one he would like to see relocate his game to the West Coast.
"I predicted he would be Rookie of the Year, an All-Star in his second year and the best player on the planet in his third year," he said. "So far, I've been right. I think we've got the best roster and the best chance and the best city."
In a text message to ESPN.com's Andy Katz, Olshey wrote "very comfortable" in response to a question about how the meeting with James went Friday.
The Clippers said in a statement they approached the meeting in "a very honest and direct way, and we felt that their reaction was considerate and receptive."
After the meetings concluded, James was asked how things were going as he headed out the door.
"Good," he said.
Riley felt the same way.
"This is a very fluid process," Riley said. "We've had five meetings across the country in the span of 40 hours. We will continue with the process. It's still early in free agency, but we feel very good with how our presentations have gone thus far."
The second day of LeBronmania didn't have as much star power as the first.
This is a very fluid process. We've had five meetings across the country in the span of 40 hours. We will continue with the process. It's still early in free agency, but we feel very good with how our presentations have gone thus far.” -- Miami Heat president Pat Riley on meetings with free agents
On Thursday, James met with the New Jersey Nets, who brought billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov and hip-hop superstar Jay-Z to help make their pitch. The New York Knicks followed with a presentation that required a rental van to haul their equipment.
James will visit on Saturday with the Chicago Bulls and Cavaliers, the two teams widely considered co-favorites to sign the two-time MVP.
The Cavs will go first at 11 a.m. Saturday, when they will remind the Ohio-born, Akron-bred superstar that there's no place like home.
A report in The Plain Dealer said Cleveland plans to keep their presentation short and colorful, playing to James' light-hearted personality.
General manager Chris Grant, newly-hired head coach Byron Scott and owner Dan Gilbert are expected to be the most prominent team figures at the sitdown, but the Plain Dealer reports the team could involve other members of the organization close to James.
The Bulls will follow at 2:30 p.m.
James pulled into the garage of the IMG building in a Range Rover and was escorted to the elevator banks by two Cleveland police officers for his 11 a.m. meeting with the Heat. Miami's advance team, led by executive and salary-cap specialist guru Andy Elisburg, arrived nearly 90 minutes before the start to set up the Heat's production.
Elisburg may not be the best known of Miami's group, but he may have the most important job since the team is hoping to re-sign Dwyane Wade and add either James and/or fellow free agent Chris Bosh to its roster. The Heat, who have more than $40 million in salary-cap space, met with Bosh in Chicago on Thursday.
James was in a great mood when he walked in for the second day of his hyped recruitment.
"Hey, what's up?" he said before heading to LRMR Marketing, the company he started with Maverick Carter, his close friend and business partner.
On the eighth floor, Riley was seen pacing the hallway waiting for James.
Riley's pitch focused on the possibility of him playing with Wade, a U.S. Olympic teammate and friend. The Heat also have talked about uniting the two with Bosh, who was in the same draft class as James and Wade. Riley also praised working for a willing-to-spend, not-willing-to-meddle owner in Arison and talked about what it meant to be part of the Heat family, something to which Mourning can attest.
And Riley also spoke about building a dynasty, the word he's been using with Heat fans for months.
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Given all that, these days could largely define a huge portion of Riley's Heat legacy.
"We feel very strongly about our commitment to Dwyane and our fans," Riley said.
Wade has said he wants to stay in Miami, but he will leave if Riley doesn't make the moves that turn the team into a championship contender again. Although Wade was the clear leader of the 2006 title team -- his Finals MVP trophy proves that -- he's lamented not getting out of the first round of the playoffs since.
A source close to the situation told ESPN.com's Chad Ford on Friday that Wade was leaning toward committing to the Bulls.
While James invited the Clippers to meet with him, it's hard to imagine them making a compelling argument for him to sign.
The club does have a nice core group of young players, including center Chris Kaman, Blake Griffin (a No. 1 draft pick in 2009) and guards Baron Davis and Eric Gordon. The Clippers also can entice James with Hollywood and the potential to add to his riches in the entertainment industry.
While other teams had more theatrical displays, the Clippers kept things simple as they showed LeBron why he should love L.A.
"We had a DVD and it showed all the places that he's already eaten, all the beaches he's already gone to and all the clubs he already knows about and all the business opportunities he'll be able to engage in," Olshey said. "But what's important is Baron Davis and Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman as his starting five. That's what's important to him. He's well educated on that. He knows our team."
That's what the Cavs are counting on, too.
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James knows them better than anyone -- and vice versa.
"We all know -- and LeBron knows -- how important he is here," Grant said during a news conference. "We've established a championship-caliber culture. We've won a lot of games the last few years. I feel we're knocking on the door."
The Cavs added to their culture on Friday, when they introduced Scott as their coach. Scott didn't waste any time making a prediction on where he thinks James is headed.
"I think at the end of the day, he's going to make the right decision, and he'll be here in Cleveland for the rest of his career," said Scott, who insisted he did not consult with James before agreeing to a contract. "His legacy of winning championships in his hometown will be like nothing he's seen in his life.
"There's nothing like winning at home. I won three titles in my hometown, and there's not a better feeling."
As far as how James would fit in Scott's system if he were to stay in Cleveland, the former Laker said he sees a little magic in him.
"You could almost look at LeBron as a Magic Johnson type," Scott said at Friday's news conference. "He has that type of ability, that type of skill."
As the meetings took place above the corners of East 9th Street and St. Clair, several Cavaliers employees held signs with words dear to James such as "Community," "Family" and "Mission." There were similar signs on the overpasses of Interstate 77, the freeway James travels between his home and Cleveland.
"I think we've got about 36 people all over town with these signs," said Nate Ferrall, a 39-year-old Clevelander, who refused to confirm he works for the Cavs. "We just want to remind LeBron that this is his home and that we support him."
According to a person familiar with James' options, he has no timetable to announce where he'll play next. The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the meetings, denied reports James had set July 5 as a deadline.
ESPN.com's Andy Katz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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