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A King for Washington: Why LeBron James should sign with the Wizards

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By Michael Abramowitz
Sunday, May 30, 2010

Picture it: the opening home game of the Wizards' 2010-2011 season. Tied score, fourth quarter. Rookie point guard and top draft pick John Wall snags a rebound and races out on a fast break, whipping the ball to Gilbert Arenas for a jumper from the corner. Gilbert -- in his rehabilitated, unselfish and unarmed incarnation -- takes a quick look at the basket but pump-fakes, freezes a defender and instead feeds the ball to the Wizards' glorious new small forward trailing down the middle, who takes off from the free-throw stripe for an insane, jaw-dropping dunk.

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The sold-out crowd at Verizon Center explodes. Senators, lobbyists, White House aides and visiting heads of state exchange awkward high-fives courtside. Instant "SportsCenter" highlight.

Now imagine this for 82 games each year, and deep into every playoff season, for the next decade or so.

Everyone, even President Obama, has an opinion about where Cleveland Cavaliers superstar and free-agent-to-be LeBron James should play next year. But the obvious answer has yet to emerge from the speculation flooding the nation's sports media: The most talented player on the planet should come to the most powerful city in the world. Washington, the town named for our first president, is ready for its first King.

The Wizards signing King James would be the right thing for the NBA, which needs a marquee team in the nation's capital. It would be the right thing for the luckless basketball fans of Washington. Most of all, it would be right for LeBron, still only 25, who needs to find the proper stage to display his otherworldly talents and to write the storybook saga those talents deserve.

Washington is clearly the place to be for any global icon, which is what LeBron aspires to become. Bono, Bill Gates and Angelina Jolie have all trekked to the capital to make their mark as truly international figures. Prime ministers, Wall Street plutocrats and Hollywood moguls all come here to get their business done. Sure, New York has Madison Avenue. But LeBron doesn't need to go to New York to get his commercial deals -- Madison Avenue comes to him.

Besides, if he went to the Knicks -- as fans from Spike Lee to New York magazine are begging him to do -- LeBron would just be another superstar, the biggest for sure in New York, but still vying for attention with the likes of Derek Jeter (and his five championship rings) as well as the various rock stars and supermodels who walk the streets of Gotham. Despite the presidential nudge last week, he should definitely avoid Chicago, where nothing he might do would ever rival Michael Jordan's exploits for the Bulls in the 1990s.

And where are the romance and mystique in Dallas or Miami or New Jersey, reputed to be among LeBron's other suitors? Seriously, Jersey?

Of course, a case can be made that LeBron should stay put in Cleveland. Ohio is where James grew up, and there is no place that will ever love him like home, no one who needs his talents more than Cleveland's long-suffering fans, without a professional sports champion since the '64 Browns won football's crown. Bringing even one NBA title back home would cement his legend.

But King James appears to have wanderlust, and if he is to leave Quicken Loans Arena, he ought to set up court at Verizon Center -- where he would immediately become the most incandescent sports star in a sports-savvy town.

I don't want to hear about the unproven Stephen Strasburg, the aging Donovan McNabb or even two-time hockey MVP Alex Ovechkin, who plays a sport most Americans still don't care about. (Sorry, Caps fans.) The day LeBron shows up in Washington, he will become the Man, the greatest superstar Washington will have seen in years, with an unusual opportunity to write a very special story for a city that, like Cleveland, has been starved for professional sports champions since the Redskins last won it all nearly two decades ago. (Yes, it's been that long.) It's an opportunity James won't have anyplace else, certainly not in New York, where the Yankees and Giants have long spoiled their fans.

As for Chicago, I know, I know -- that's where he could find a team ready-made to contend for a championship. But think of it this way, LeBron: Even if you win a title next year for the Bulls, you're still five behind Jordan. And your legacy there will be defined less by your own accomplishments than by how you compare to His Airness. Win here and you're an instant sports deity, upgraded from your current demigod status. And we won't boo you the first time you fail to get a triple-double.


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