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|LeBron James might ultimately choose New York, but that just may make his pizza better, not him.|
The two biggest NBA myths around are that LeBron James needs to be in New York and that the league needs the Knicks to be good.
Anyone who still believes you can make it only in Manhattan probably still calls remote controls "clickers." This isn't the Walter Cronkite era, when we got our news from men sitting at desks in New York. These aren't the old Don Draper days, when everything we thought we knew and needed was generated by the ad shops on Madison Avenue.
LeBron, playing in little old Cleveland, stands to make more in endorsement money this year than New York Yankees superstars Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter will combined. And they play for the Yankees. LeBron could win eight championships with the Knicks and they still wouldn't rule that city the way the Yankees do. Oh, and you could add Peyton Manning's $13 million to Jeter and A-Rod's $14 million and it still won't match LeBron's $28 million in off-court money this year.
(If we didn't have bigger racial breakthroughs this year, we might ruminate on sociological implications of an African-American basketball player making more than twice as much endorsement money as a white NFL quarterback. Let's just say LeBron should be thankful for Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and even O.J. Simpson for making it possible for him to be the highest-paid team athlete in American sports this year.)
The only two people ahead of LeBron on Sports Illustrated's 2008 "Fortunate 50" list are golfers Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. They can live anywhere they want, but they don't feel the need to be in New York. They'll pass on the outrageous price-per-square-footage costs for dwellings that don't have a single blade of grass. They'd rather be in Florida and Arizona, where they can be warm and (in Tiger's case) avoid paying state income taxes.
Now if James wants New York's vibrancy and thin-crust pizza, that's one thing. Maybe he just wants to play 41 games a year in Madison Square Garden. From the savvy fans to the booming sound system, it's still the NBA's best arena when it's at full blast.
But let's dispense with the notion that he has to go there, that it's the next step in his career and any other location between there and Los Angeles is a waste of his time. Patrick Ewing got to New York a year after MJ went to the Midwest and you don't see people wearing Ewing's silhouette on their shoes.
LeBron made the cover of Sports Illustrated and played games on ESPN when he was a high schooler in Akron. In Cleveland, he's been on the cover of Fortune, Time and Vogue (maybe he should have rethought that last one). He has hosted "Saturday Night Live."
You don't need to go to the media anymore. The media come to you, even if it means parking a satellite truck at your curb. Just ask Joe the Plumber. In the world of YouTube, Flickr and Facebook, anyone with a digital camera and a high-speed Internet connection is the media. In fact, LeBron's best work can be found on the Web, in that sublime scene where Smooth LeBron romances Nicole Scherzinger with a pair of high-tops.
If LeBron goes to New York, he won't get any famouser. I'm forced to use a made-up word because the Knicks are a made-up mythology, somehow considered to be among the elite franchises even though the Rockets have won just as many championships in 21 fewer years of existence. The Warriors, Trail Blazers and Heat have won more recently than the Knicks. The Bullets and Sonics have won more recently, too, only they're not the Bullets and Sonics anymore.
When it comes to the league's health, the Knicks are like tonsils. It's nice to have them, but you can live without them. At the NBA's zenith in the 1980s, the stars of the program were in L.A. and Boston. The Knicks were the sideshow, giving us the occasional Bernard King scoring outbursts or the Ewing lottery. The best they could be in the early 1990s was an interesting villain to be vanquished, Sgt. Slaughter to Jordan's Hulk Hogan.
What happened the first two times Jordan retired and allowed the Knicks to get their time in the spotlight? Viewers left in droves. The biggest NBA Finals ratings drop-offs were from a 17.9 for Jordan in 1993 to a 12.4 for the Knicks and Rockets in 1994 and an 18.7 for Jordan in 1998 to an 11.3 for the Knicks and Spurs in 1999.
It doesn't matter that the Knicks reside in the nation's largest television market. New York only matters to New Yorkers. The rest of the country doesn't care.
Maybe LeBron buys into the New York hype because it seems as if he has spent his whole life surrounded by hype. The difference is, LeBron lives up to it.
J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.