By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, June 9, 2010; D03
Just because LeBron James didn't play his way into the NBA Finals doesn't mean he's not front-and-center, that he's back home like everybody else in Cleveland, depressed over such a crushing dismissal from the playoffs. LeBron, from all appearances, has recovered nicely. Fast, too. In fact, you can see LeBron just as much as Kobe Bryant or Rajon Rondo. Some would say the Courtship of LeBron James is upstaging the NBA Finals. I'll just say the two events are running concurrently.
Actually, it's possible there's more activity related to LeBron than to Lakers-Celtics, especially if a billionaire buys the Clippers essentially to get in position to get LeBron, which is what entertainment mogul David Geffen appears to be up to in Los Angeles.
This is just the latest, of course. When the Washington Wizards won the draft lottery three weeks ago it probably ruined the New Jersey Nets' chances of drafting John Wall, thereby weakening their position to attract LeBron. Speaking of Wall and LeBron, the two partied in Los Angeles the other night after the game. The night before? LeBron was at Boa on Sunset in Hollywood. Before that? LeBron was interviewed on "Nightline." Before that, it was LeBron on Larry King.
You can bet the big boys at NBA headquarters don't like LeBron controlling the action as much as he is, especially during the staging of its marquee event, the Finals. Leagues tell their club executives all the time to refrain from making major announcements during their championship competitions. But the league can't do squat about this. The NBA can't stop LeBron from talking, can't stop him from having a little fun in Los Angeles. What's David Stern going to do, require a seating chart to keep LeBron or one of his guys away from Geffen during a Lakers game? He also cannot stop teams from making preparations to be ready for July 1, the day LeBron and all the others become free agents, just because the information so often leaks and becomes public, then big news.
Some of this may be a matter of seeing the Boogeyman everywhere. You know how the Chicago Bulls' hiring of Tom Thibodeaux, the defensive guru of the Boston Celtics, is LeBron driven? Tibbs is a client of Creative Artists' Agency's World Wide Wes, who is a BFF of LeBron . . . so there! And Cleveland's courting of Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, a Michigan State alum? Izzo has replaced Bob Knight as the great iconic basketball coach of the Midwest. And LeBron, the theory goes, would play for Izzo. This, of course, follows the completely accepted presumption that LeBron signed off on Gilbert's firing of Coach Mike Brown and GM Danny Ferry.
So, LeBron is running the Cavaliers (which Gilbert denied again Tuesday), influencing the Bulls' selection of a coach, and . . . creating such temptation that Donald Sterling, who says he would never sell his Clippers, might consider selling his Clippers. Geffen, as important a figure in entertainment as there's been the last 30 years or so, would do this for the primary reason of luring LeBron James to the entertainment capital of the world.
Peter Vecsey first reported in the New York Post that Geffen wants to buy 51 percent of the Clippers, and has told Sterling that he, Geffen, can deliver LeBron . . . but only if he's calling the shots. Further evidence, if you're into this thing, is that Maverick Carter, who rides shotgun with LeBron on important decisions, was sitting alongside Geffen in Los Angeles the other night during the Finals. ESPN's Marc Stein reports that LeBron would never consider the Clippers if Sterling, who has said all kinds of off-the-wall, even bigoted things through his tenure as owner, was running the joint. Now Geffen? That's another thing entirely.
So now, we're up to the Cavaliers, Nets, Bulls and Clippers, and we're just waiting on the Heat and Wizards. (Can you imagine the moves Dan Snyder would be making to get LeBron if he owned the Wizards?)
But back to the Clippers. Is Los Angeles big enough for both LeBron and Kobe? Is one building, the Staples Center, big enough for them both? And is Sterling the kind of guy who'll sacrifice face time and credit in order to actually have LeBron wear a Clippers uniform? If the Chicago Bulls are the team with both the best roster and cap space available, then the Clippers are No. 2 on the list. They've got a more than capable center in Chris Kaman, a young star guard in the making in Eric Gordon, last year's No. 1 draft pick who hasn't even stepped on the court in Blake Griffin, a veteran guard in Baron Davis. The Clippers are a team in need of a dynamic owner to make it happen and Geffen, understandably, is drooling.
And the NBA would be foolish to try and quiet the buzz over this and over the next rumor/report to come along. This isn't a case of no publicity is bad publicity. This is the most exciting free agent bonanza in NBA history, and it's perfect fodder for the off days and down time in the 24-hour news culture we live in, where radio stations, Twitter accounts and all kinds of other social media need to be satisfied. The NBA couldn't pay for this kind of obsessive all-day coverage. It's nirvana for the basketball junkie. When Lakers-Celtics tips off for Games 3, 4, 5, 6 and perhaps 7, the action on the court will easily command the attention of folks who care about the games, even LeBron, who decided not to sit with Geffen the other night because he knew the consequences of such an appearance. And when the dribbling stops, LeBron is on the clock, now, providing all the hoops news you can use.