Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Updated: July 8, 9:10 PM ET
Sources: James leaning toward Heat
By Chris Broussard
ESPN The Magazine
All indications are that LeBron James is leaning toward signing with the Miami Heat on Thursday night, according to several sources with knowledge of the situation.
Barring a late change of heart, sources say James has decided to join fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a potential NBA powerhouse.
James will make his announcement from the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, Conn., during an hourlong special called "The Decision" on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET Thursday. Sales of sponsorship for the program will go to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Wearing a lavender shirt and jeans, James arrived at the club about 8:50 p.m. and entered through a side door, missing most of the crowd. As folks realized it was James exiting a van, the crowd of about 400 people began chanting "New York Knicks, New York Knicks," then switched to "LeBron James."
James, in a T-shirt and shorts, showed up at a basketball camp he sponsors at Cleveland State University in midafternoon with former teammate Damon Jones. James nervously chewed his fingernails while watching some high-schoolers play. He stayed a little more than an hour before heading off in a white Bentley, presumably on his way to the airport.
He did not speak to a reporter, but said "thank you" to some coaches in the stands who wished him luck.
Some of college basketball's top coaches were on hand, including Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina's Roy Williams, West Virginia's Bob Huggins and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim.
Chris Paul, one of James' best friends, has urged him to stay in Cleveland and let new Cavaliers coach Byron Scott coach him, according to sources. With such strong sentiment around him to not go to Miami, it's possible James could alter his decision.
James' family and friends are divided over his decision to play in Miami, according to sources. Opinions range from understanding his desire to play with All-Star teammates, to feeling he is selling himself short by joining Wade's team, to concerns that playing on such a power-packed squad will hurt his brand even if he wins championships.
"I'll believe it when I see it," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said while at James' camp. "In the end, it's going to be tough for LeBron to turn down what he has here, but there could be some championships for him down there."
James worked hard to help the Cavaliers improve their roster, sources said. He tried to sell Bosh on the idea of going to Cleveland, but the 6-foot-11 forward was adamant he did not want to play in northeast Ohio.
While sources close to James insist his heart is in Cleveland and remaining with the Cavaliers was his preferred choice, they say he had concerns about signing a six-year deal there and ending up "31 years old, with bad knees and no title."
If James does announce he's leaving the Cavaliers, police in Ohio are preparing for civil unrest.
A source told ESPN's Shelley Smith that police are increasing patrols in downtown Cleveland and around LeBron's house in Bath, Ohio, calling in officers in neighboring cities.
Bars and restaurants throughout the region are hosting "LeBron Watch" parties featuring dunk tanks, beer specials and poster giveaways. Frank Borally, owner of The Purple Shamrock bar, says he'll pick up the food tab for anyone who stays from 7 p.m. until the announcement is made -- if James chooses the Cavs.
"Hopefully, I have to pay. I want to pay. I don't care if it's $3,000," said Borally, whose bars are downtown and in suburban Willowick.
But the fans are prepared for the worst.
"If he leaves, and says so on national TV, it would be the cruelest act imaginable," said resident Bill Plagens of suburban Rocky River. "Pure evil."
ESPN.com reported June 28 that James, Wade and Bosh held a scaled-down version of the free-agent summit originally suggested by Wade to seriously discuss their futures.
Sources in the initial report told ESPN.com that the sitdown took place in Miami during the weekend before July 1, when free agency commenced. That was subsequently denied by Henry Thomas, agent for Wade and Bosh. In reconfirming Wednesday that the three players did convene for at least one face-to-face meeting, sources now say the three players met in Ohio on James' turf on the Saturday before the NBA draft.
James averaged 29.7 points for Cleveland last season; Wade averaged 26.6 points for Miami; and Bosh averaged career bests of 24.0 points and 10.8 rebounds for Toronto.
By joining the Heat, James would leave nearly $30 million on the table, unless the Cavaliers agree to an unlikely sign-and-trade. The Cavaliers could give him a six-year, $128 million contract, while Miami can offer him only a five-year deal worth up to $99 million.
Wade does not know what the terms of the next contract he'll sign with Miami will be, nor when he'll sign the paper. Bosh doesn't have terms of his next deal done, either. It's all contingent on what James says Thursday night, and Wade insisted he knows nothing about what the two-time MVP will say.
Players could not sign new contracts until Thursday, but Miami fans were not afraid to show their excitement for the potential South Beach dynasty. Season-ticket sales for the Heat's coming 41-game season were suspended Thursday afternoon after the entire supply of available seats was sold out. Not every seat has been released for sale yet and some will be held back for single-game purchases at the 19,600-capacity arena.
Asked why he didn't agree to a sign-and-trade that would have paired him with James in Cleveland, Bosh said he decided Miami was the best choice.
"I wasn't sure if LeBron was coming back [to Cleveland] and I just wanted to leave that decision up to him," Bosh said. "I wanted to choose the best situation for me and my family, and Miami was the best decision for me."
The salary cap released Thursday for the 2010-11 season is just more than $58 million, about $2 million more than teams expected, and that extra money could be yet another free-agency edge for the Heat.
"We'll see what the best thing is for us to win," Wade told The Associated Press. "I'm going to make a lot of money, no matter what happens. I've been blessed. I'm not counting every dollar and every cent. Let's sit down, let's see what the best thing is for us, for the long haul."
Boeheim, who was an assistant coach on the 2008 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball team that included James, Wade and Bosh, said he has no doubts the three superstars can coexist on the same NBA team.
"All three can play together, they played together for us and they were great," Boeheim told ESPN.com's Andy Katz.
"If he goes to Miami it clearly gives him the best chance to win. They could easily play together. They are all good friends and they all like each other. Bosh can play off each of them. He doesn't need to be the main guy. You can alternate down the court -- one time LeBron takes it, Dwyane takes it the next time. I don't think it's even an issue," Boeheim said. "We had all of those guys and Kobe [Bryant] on the court at the same time and we did all right. Anybody who says [they can't play together] doesn't know what they're talking about."
Miami came into free agency with what turned out to be roughly $46 million of cap space, not including $16.5 million or so earmarked for Wade, thanks to years of avoiding just about any deal in which money would have been committed for the 2010-11 season.
"We want to build a dynasty," Miami Heat president Pat Riley had told fans entering free agency.
By scheduling his special show and essentially putting a deadline on himself to make an announcement, it would appear that James has made up his mind. If he does, however, change his decision, the Cavaliers, the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls all would be possibilities, according to the sources.
Knicks president Donnie Walsh, an executive with nearly 30 years in the NBA, understood all the fuss surrounding James' decision.
"It's something new, but we're in new age," he said. "I don't remember Michael Jordan ever becoming a free agent. I don't remember Larry Bird becoming a free agent. I don't remember Magic Johnson becoming a free agent. It would've been the same back then if they had, but that never happened."
Chris Broussard is an NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine. ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Andy Katz contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was also used.