Your move, LeBron James.
With the Republican National Committee selecting Cleveland for its 2016 nominating convention, the onetime Cleveland Cavalier superstar is making the next big decision that could affect the city’s fortunes.
However, as the onetime “Sixth City” basks in the glow of winning the RNC host competition, “King” James could complicate that crowning achievement if the now free agent does in fact decide to return to the team that he so publicly spurned four years ago in a nationally televised live broadcast.
That’s because the mere addition of James into the Cavaliers lineup – a team that went 33-49 last season – would make them an instant contender to win the NBA’s Eastern Conference and possibly advance to the finals. After all, with a less talented surrounding cast than is currently in Cleveland, James almost single-handedly pushed the Cavaliers into title contention for five straight years, including one trip to the 2007 NBA finals and one to the 2009 conference finals.
Put another way, his teams have played in five of the last eight NBA finals, including four straight with the Miami Heat.
This would be a great thing for Cleveland, right, two big coups in the same week? Well, sort of.
The hiccup comes in the competing schedules of the NBA and RNC chairman Reince Priebus. Because of complicated campaign finance laws, Priebus has decided that the Republican presidential contender should be formally nominated far earlier than in recent elections, when the conventions were held around Labor Day weekend. Instead, Priebus wants a June convention, which would allow the nominee to begin tapping an account of campaign cash that can only be spent for the general election.
This timing issue became a big conflict with Dallas, the other finalist for the RNC convention and a city that is quite familiar with success in the NBA playoffs. (The Mavericks appeared twice in the NBA finals in the past nine years, winning it all over James in his first season with the Miami Heat in 2011.)
The NBA, topped only by the NHL when it comes to long seasons, goes all the way into mid-to-late June. This year’s clinching title game – in which the San Antonio Spurs toppled James and the Heat in five games – concluded June 15. In 2013, when James and the Heat toppled the Spurs in a full seven-game series, the King hoisted the trophy on June 20.
That is terrible timing for a city that is supposed to host a national nominating convention in mid-to-late June. For all the logistical reasons imaginable, on everything from stage setting to installing security provisions, national party committees and the Secret Service need several weeks of lead time to make a big arena fit for hosting a convention. At least six weeks of “exclusive access,”, by one estimate.
Back in February, as the final RNC bids were being submitted, the Mavericks colorful owner Marc Cuban was asked if he would move his team’s playoff games to another arena or even another city to make way for the 2016 RNC.
“No and we won’t move,” Cuban told the Dallas Morning News.
Such a consideration never seemed like an issue for Cleveland. After James humiliated the downtrodden Midwestern city – once the sixth largest, now 45th – by leaving for Miami, the Cavs imploded. They won 61 games in 2010 with James, losing deep in the playoffs, but then won just 19 the following season without him. They have gotten better, little by little, with last season’s 33 wins a high-water mark since James left.
Once again a free agent, four years after having his image burned in effigy at fan anger over his departure, King James is believed to be considering a return to the region that he grew up in, northern Ohio, to try to repair the one lasting stain on his Hall of Fame career. Winning an NBA title for his hometown fans – he grew up in nearby Akron – would likely heal the wounds, given this title-hungry town hasn’t seen a meaningful sports trophy since 1964.
Yet such a move would almost assuredly force the RNC to move back its convention into July, or else the Cavs would have to agree to plan a 2016 playoff schedule in a college arena, such as Ohio State University’s, 140 miles away from Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
What does Cleveland hunger more, the national spotlight of a national convention or the return of James and an NBA title?