Cleveland Cavaliers minority (and former majority) owner Gordon Gund stated recently that he is "very hopeful" that Cavs superstar LeBron James will re-sign with the team during the much-hyped free agent signing period this summer.
"I'm very hopeful that he will. I think it will be hard for him to find a better situation," Gund said in an interview with basketball Web site NBA FanHouse.
Gund's aspirations are shared with firm guard by anyone who has a shred of affection for Cleveland sports. LeBron's influence and importance go above and beyond sports for Clevelanders.
"King James" means everything to this city.
The issue of James' eventual signing with his next NBA squad has been discussed ad nauseam over the course of the past two years or so, matched only by the coverage of Brett Favre's annual retirement charade and ESPN's yearlong love affair with the NFL Draft.
Each and every opinion variation has been analyzed, rebuttals have been thrown back and forth, and once the dust settles after each of the many debates, the general consensus seems split: Many think he'll stay, many think he'll go.
But despite the many "experts" who hold the utmost confidence in James abandoning the city where sports nightmare created its horrifyingly permanent nest, the King will still hold court in Cleveland next year and beyond.
First of all, the Cavs can give James a lot (more than any other NBA team) of what he likes a whole lot: money. The collective bargaining agreement allows Cleveland to offer James a maximum contract this summer. Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry would have to be a lunatic to do anything but that.
The bottom line on the money issue is that the Cavs can give LeBron more money than anybody else.
Some will argue that James would cash in on millions more in endorsement deals if he jumped ship to a bigger city and broader spotlight. While this may be true to an extent, can this guy get any bigger than he already is?
His face is on billboards in almost every major city in the world, he's featured in annual ad campaigns for multiple international conglomerates, he's one of the most recognizable faces in the world, and he has an entire region (which includes his hometown) groveling at his feet 24/7.
This last point brings this article to its next argument: James' close ties to family and friends close to home tip the scales in favor of the Cavs locking him up beyond 2010.
Since beginning his career with the Cavaliers, James has continually said how much he enjoys playing near his hometown and how important his family and friends are to him. The tight bonds James developed with his teammates at Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High School (which are highlighted in a full-length feature film and a book) give evidence to how connected and rooted he is to northeast Ohio.
While LeBron's loyalty to the place in which he grew up certainly won't single-handedly sway him toward re-signing with Cleveland, it certainly doesn't hurt.
Seasons past and present give evidence to the claim that the Cavaliers give James his best shot at a championship. From the moment Cleveland drafted James in 2003, the franchise that was then on life support has done everything in its power to give its star everything he needs to win a ring.
After a shaky start to this season (a whopping two-game losing streak at the outset), James and his teammates have developed a tangible chemistry that has led them to the Eastern Conference's best record (30-10).
Cleveland boasts one of the biggest frontlines, deepest benches, and most talented backcourts in basketball. The offseason additions of Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon, the (finally) consistent play of guard Daniel Gibson, and the continued high productivity of Mo Williams and Delonte West have helped place James and the Cavaliers among the favorites to claim the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June.
All this goes without mentioning what the Cavs may do at this season's trade deadline to bolster their roster.
While some of Ferry's past moves have been questionable at best (the Larry Hughes experiment), he's also pulled off a few of what should be considered miraculous transactions (essentially swapping Damon Jones for Williams two seasons ago and trading Tony Battie and draft picks to Orlando for Drew Gooden and Anderson Varejao).
And although some may argue that newly-acquired center Shaquille O'Neal isn't a good fit in Cleveland, the Cavs gave up next to nothing (Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic) to get the overwhelming frontcourt presence that many said they needed after getting bounced from last year's playoffs by Dwight Howard and the Magic.
As long as Ferry holds post as general manager in Cleveland, one can reasonably expect him to continue giving LeBron the pieces he needs to contend for a title.
But perhaps the biggest reason for James to remain with the Cavaliers past 2010 has to do with a mission of sorts for the superstar.
Since LeBron entered the league, he has developed a Kobe Bryant-esque will to reach victory, no matter what it takes (this is especially evident since the Cavaliers' rise to NBA prominence). All one needs to do is watch a hotly-contested fourth quarter to behold James putting his team on his back and carrying it through whatever the opposition throws at him.
It's this kind of commitment against losing that drives the "King's Crusade." If LeBron can bring Cleveland—a city that has undergone nonstop sports torture for decades—a championship dynasty over the next several years, it will seat him firmly among history's greatest athletes.
No number of potential championships won in a city like New York could match bringing the success-starved Cleveland faithful to the promised land—a heroic feat to which LeBron is startlingly dedicated.
Dominating the league from his hometown, while fighting to bring it the championship success it has long lacked could end up being the one factor that pushes James to sign on the dotted line with the Cavaliers this summer.
Since LeBron's arrival in Cleveland, he has done nothing but plant euphoric dreams within the minds of the downtrodden Midwest town's people.
This summer will not only make or break the future of the Cavaliers, but that of the city of Cleveland as well. With the Cavaliers in the Association's elite, King James' subjects should share Gund's faith.
Until then, we'll just have to Witness what happens.
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