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The ball is in King James's court

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  July 8, 2010 12:14 PM

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As a high school junior LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated billed as the Chosen One. Tonight, it's his turn to choose one.

In a mere matter of hours we will have a long-awaited resolution -- mercifully -- to the much-anticipated free agent flirtation of LeBron James, the swan song to the Summer of LeBron.

The repercussions will reverberate throughout the NBA like a Vuvuzela blown through a megaphone. Tonight's ESPN-televised infomercial is not just a moment of reckoning for LeBron and his legacy it is for the entire NBA, including your reunited Boston Celtics.

The celebration over coaxing Doc Rivers to coach another season, Paul Pierce to re-up at a below-market rate and Ray Allen to return will be short lived if James elects to form a Big Three of his own in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh ("CSI: Miami" would have to investigate, the idea is so criminal). Boston's Big Three is in decline, Miami's would be in their prime. Suddenly, the Celtics reopened championship window would go from wide open to merely ajar.

Such is the power of LeBron. The King is the kingmaker for a number of NBA outfits, especially those that have been plotting, planning, promising and paring payroll for this day since 'Bron-'Bron signed a three-year extension with the Cavaliers four years ago this month.

With a simple nod of acceptance LeBron can reinvigorate moribund Madison Square Garden, chose to continue the quixotic quest to bring Cleveland its first major sports championship since the days of the original LBJ, be the heir to the throne of his Airness in Chicago, or provide the master stroke of the blueprint for the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets.

Or he can take the surest path to a championship and alter the NBA as we know it by joining forces with Wade and Chris Bosh to form a superstar trio that may be unrivaled in the history of professional hoops.

The last option, which James is reportedly leaning toward and ready to celebrate, would confirm what some already suspected about James -- that he lacks the insatiable competitive drive and killer instinct of Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson. That as great and unique as his individual talents are the two-time defending league MVP has neither the mental makeup nor the ability to carry a franchise on his shoulders to the promise land. That his unselfish play is both a reflection of trying to share the wealth and lessen the burden. That he's been plotting his escape from Cleveland for brighter lights and better teammates for years.

Can you imagine Jordan, thwarted by Bird and Isiah Thomas in the 1980s, suddenly deciding to joining forces with one of them or heading to Los Angeles to play with Magic Johnson? Never would have happened.

In fairness to James, the Cavaliers have tried and failed repeatedly and woefully to give James his Scottie Pippen, and even without a suitable sidekick he still carried Cleveland to the NBA Finals in 2007. There was a point in time, pre-Pau Gasol, when Kobe made it quite clear publicly that he thought the Lakers were a no-win situation and wanted out. His Kobeness tried to force a trade to the Bulls. Now, his legacy as a Laker has been cemented by back-to-back titles.

In a lot of ways I don't envy LeBron. This is not an easy decision because the Cavaliers don't look set up to win any time soon and even the power of LeBron can't lure a high-profile free agent to Cleveland, which is why Bosh is South Florida-bound. But if James leaves he'll be vilified in Cleveland and blamed for the collapse of the franchise. No one wants that burden, especially when making a decision that is so public.

For the latter LeBron has only himself to blame. He's made it that way, right down to deciding to send up the white smoke from Greenwich, Conn., via ESPN, like a high school recruit choosing a college by putting on a hat.

If you felt James was making a cold and calculated basketball decision driven only by winning then maybe it would be easier to embrace whatever decision he makes. But during the courting process King James has acted more like a jester. The whole Summer of LeBron has been a big choreographed joke.

He has talked about conferring with his "team," a group of self-serving sycophants and toadies. He has invited pitches that talk about how he can become a billionaire and an icon. He has eagerly turned us all into Witnesses of his inveterate need for fame, attention and adulation.

It's all been a reminder that the fate of franchises -- and an entire league -- is in the hands of a 25-year-old who has never attended a day of college, never lived outside of his native Ohio, and has been coddled and told he's special nearly all his life. Just another example that the sports world is about as far from the world we live in as Mars.

Everyone wants to know what LeBron is going to decide -- even my barber called me today looking for inside info. Who knows?

But what we do know is that no matter "The Decision" LeBron makes tonight, it will be a choice that will affect not just him but the entire NBA.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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