The LeBron James Summer Sweepstakes officially begins in two weeks, with the July 1 onset of NBA free agency, but it feels like a blockbuster already playing in theaters. We've seen this movie before, of course. It's a mystery. In the trailer, we see tea leaves and tarot cards tantalizing with small hints and indications where the King's next kingdom might be.
It would be hilarious if after all of this the surprise ending was a massive anticlimax, like, after weeks of being wooed amid a swirl of speculation on a National Love-Me Tour, LeBron finally announced he's re-signing with Cleveland for another season so we can do this all over again next summer.
But that won't happen because this is LeBron, center stage, all eyes on him, poised to make the one decision he thinks will win back what Steph Curry , Kevin Durant and Golden State have taken from him: Everything. His face at the front of the sport and his name on top of it.
And that won't happen because this is the NBA, which owns the offseason, its superstar shuffle the best thing to happen to summer since the beach,.
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Basketball not playing is more interesting and exciting than baseball playing.
MLB attendance continues to fall, down 7 percent from last year as the slowest sport this side of curling fails to engage millennials as fans.
Then there's football, where the NFL is killing its players with brain injuries while half of the country thinks some of those players don't respect the American flag.
Basketball is right now, embraced by hip-hop culture, by teens and internationally, its players the biggest stars in American sports.
You want anecdotal proof? ESPN just came out with its annual World Fame 100, ranking the globe's biggest athletes based on endorsements, search score and social media reach.
MLB placed zero players on the list.
The NFL had seven, but none higher than Tom Brady at No. 38.
The NBA has 13, with LeBron at No. 2 overall and eight who rank higher than Brady — the Heat's Dwyane Wade at No. 31.
Part of that is the megawatt appeal of basketball free agency and the idea that players, not agents or teams, are the power brokers here.
"It's crazy," notes Wade, "because in this league you never know what will happen."
Enter LeBron. Again.
In Act 1, in 2010, he instantly made Miami the center of the hoops universe with one Decision.
Act II, in 2014, found him playing the Homecoming King as the kid from Akron, Ohio, returned to Cleveland.
Act III, about to roll out, will find LeBron joining the Los Angeles Lakers — if the tea leaves are right, anyway — although with at least six or seven teams reporetedly in the hunt and no consensus front-runner, the potential for surprise is large. When LeBron says even he doesn't know what he will do, I believe him.
LeBron-to-Lakers enjoys the buzz as the 7-4 betting favorite, ahead of Philadelphia at 11-5, Houston 5-2, staying in Cleveland 5-1, San Antonio 8-1 and Boston 12-1, with the long shots Golden State and New York both 30-1 and (drumroll) Miami at 40-1.
.(LeBron joining Durant and Curry with the Warriors should be illegal, by the way. It would be like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos all pooling their money and buying the Earth).
The Lakers are the trendy favorites because of those tea leaves. (The NBA should sell naming rights to its offseason to Lipton or Tetley). L.A. has planned two years for this summer and is in the most favorable salary-cap situation to not only sign LeBron but to pair with him with another superstar such as free agent Paul George.
Blowhard Dad LaVar Ball, asked if he thinks LeBron is coming the Lakers, said, "I know he is. Everybody knows he's coming, man!" LaVar also said he thinks his Laker son Lonzo will make LeBron better. No, he really said that!
There was also this cryptic Tweet by Lakers owner Jeanie Buss: "Do not ever underestimate. Nothing else to say."
Then there's the fact LeBron owns a mansion in Brentwood, near L.A., and has a Hollywood production company with an eye on TV and film. And how about Gary Payton breaking the news (!) that LeBron Jr., "Bronny," now 13, supposedly already is enrolled to play high school basketball at L.A..'s tony and private Sierra Canyon High.
Lakers legend Kobe Bryant has been less than welcoming, advising that LeBron needs to "figure out a way to win." But it would be the most LeBron thing ever for James to go reinvent Showtime, own L.A. and remind everybody he's better than Kobe ever was.
I'm going to have to say all of those tea leaves favoring the Lakers outweigh the fact LeBron visited old buddies Wade and Udonis Haslem in Miami just before the recent NBA Finals.
Wait. Urgent update. The Spurs may be gaining ground. The San Antonio Zoo just offered LeBron a free membership!