He loves New York City and its energy.
His favorite baseball team is the Yankees.
He’s friends with rap mogul Jay-Z, minority owner of the Brooklyn-bound New Jersey Nets.
He called Madison Square Garden the "Mecca" of all basketball arenas, and talked about how it's always a joy to play there. He added he liked the direction in which the Knicks organization was heading.
Meanwhile, he has done little to squash the rumors he’s planning to land in the Big Apple.
But does any of this mean LeBron James will be donning an orange and blue jersey two years from now?
Of course not. The reality is LeBron will never play for the Knicks.
Why should he? To pursue greater marketing exposure and the mega-millions in endorsement deals only Madison Avenue can offer? To some, that's a good enough reason alone. To others, however, the extra fame and fortune isn't worth being ring-less. Ask Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, and Charles Barley—great players who will always serve as the posterchildren for "loser."
As crazy as this statement sounds, money is a bit overrated in the NBA right now. After all, with the game globalizing, a player can get his money anywhere.
Everyone seems to forget how Kobe Bryant wanted out of Hollywood at the start of last season because he felt his supporting cast was too weak to help him win a ring. Screw the money, Kobe basically said, knowing he needed to win a title without Shaquille O’Neal in order to really stand on his own.
It’s about winning. Heck, right before our eyes last June, we all witnessed perennial losers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce go from "guys who get drafted in the first round of fantasy leagues" to "guys who get their jerseys hoisted to stadium rafters where legends live forever.”
No fame or fortune in the world can buy that. Tim Duncan knows it, he took a pay cut to help his team. LeBron knows it too. He is already filthy rich and will continue to be filthy rich, whether he's playing in Cleveland or Mexico. It's not about the money. It's about the chance to win.
So ask yourself this question: will the Knicks be one of the select few teams in position to seriously compete for a championship in 2011?
Of course not. So why would LeBron subject himself to taking a step back from a winning situation to a rebuilding one?
Mike D'Antoni, who is signed through 2012, has already proved his defense-ignorant brand of basketball isn't conducive to winning championships. Making matters worse, the Knicks roster currently doesn't have one player signed to play in 2010-2011 (Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries both have player options but chances are they will be long gone by then).
Teams don't leapfrog from bottom-dweller to champion. It will be years before the Knicks contend again. And people really believe LeBron, the best player in the game, will sign with them? Nuts.
Meanwhile, several rising teams will be in the position where they're one major piece away from contending for the crown. The Heat are run by someone who knows what he's doing—Pat Riley. They will have plenty of money to throw around. There's a good chance Dwyane Wade will re-sign. Michael Beasley will be under contract. Adding LeBron would immediately make this team one of the favorites.
The Hawks will have Josh Smith and Al Horford under contract. Find a solid coach, a pass-first point guard and add LeBron, and the recipe for a championship is there.
I could go on and on. Many teams will have the money and a young, talented nucleus in place. Portland, Indiana, Orlando, etc.
There are other factors to consider as well. Unlike cities such as Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, New York does not boast a community of young, black celebrities. Guys like Jay-Z and P-Diddy live in Northern New Jersey, and only navigate Manhattan in a discreet "secret entrance" type of way.
Meanwhile, South Beach is flooded with millionaires in LeBron's age group, with whom he shares interests. I think LeBron would rather kick it with Ludacris or Meagan Good than Jake Gyllenhaal or Gwyneth Paltrow.
Also, LeBron is a small-town guy. Making the leap from Cleveland to New York City is incredibly more drastic than, say, moving from Cleveland to Atlanta.
And let us not forget Cleveland, the city just up the road from Akron, where LeBron grew up. He is familiar with everything around him there. His family is there. The state has a history of idolizing its elite athletes in a way few other places can do.
Also, because of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Cavaliers can sign LeBron to the richest contract in sports.
Oh yeah, the team is also currently 15-3, looking incredible, and will only improve when Wally Szczerbiak’s contract is traded off in a deal for a significant piece (Brad Miller? Shawn Marion? Josh Howard?).
The only reason LeBron is entertaining the idea of playing elsewhere is because he wants to pressure Cavs management into committing itself to building a winner in Cleveland now. And should his bosses fail at doing that, then James will consider destinations like the ones mentioned above.
Either way, regardless of whether he stays or goes, the only way he's playing in New York City is as a member of the visiting team.