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LeBron Headed to Chicago

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a few billion times; if you’re a fan of an NBA team with cap room this summer, you can’t get enough LeBron in your life right now.

But if you aren’t one of those fans, you’re likely just shy of homicidal right about now. To those folks I say, put down your weapons of choice and slowly step away from this column. You aren’t wanted here. We’re about to do a triple backflip off the high-dive, canon-balling into a LBJ free agent theory. Hopefully smooching Wendy Peffercorn in the process.

We all want to know where the NBA’s most exciting player is going to play next year. The thing is, he may have already told us.

Everyone is well aware that LBJ idolized Michael Jordan growing up. So much so that he chose to wear No. 23 throughout his young career – prep and NBA – as a tribute to His Airness. That is, he wore No. 23 until now.

Next year LeBron will don No. 6, his Olympic number, switching his lifelong tribute to Jordan in an attempt to, well, pay tribute to Jordan. At the the time James announced the pending switch, he urged all current ballers to drop their own No. 23 so EVERYONE could pay adequate homage to MJ. He also urged the NBA to retire Michael’s number in every arena, a la Jackie Robinson in MLB.

How sweet and considerate of LeBron. But the Jackie move is never going to happen. MJ was a transcendent player, but as a humanitarian, he never really did anything worth noting. He also wasn’t a pioneer. (He stuck out his tongue, which was great and all, but hardly worth honoring.) Those are the only two reasons a professional league ever retires a player’s jersey throughout the entire league. Well, except the NHL, who retired Wayne Gretsky’s No. 99, because he broke about 450,000 records. But I’m not sure that the NHL counts. And I don’t think the guy who is widely regarded as the best basketball player ever, is actually hurting for respect among NBA circles anyway.

The REAL reason players most often switch their digits is money. Namely, they want to make more of it, selling new jerseys to fans who have already purchased old ones. Double selling, if you will. But LeBron hasn’t had much of a problem moving merchandise with his name attached. This past season, LBJ finished second to only Kobe Bryant in total jersey sales.

Ok, so if not to tribute Jordan or to sell more threads, what is the TRUE reason LeBron has been planning on ditching his idol’s digits?

Well, to me, logically it appears that it’s not that he wants to re-tribute Michael, but rather that next year he won’t be ALLOWED to wear No. 23. Because LeBron will be playing in Chicago, where Jordan’s number IS officially retired.

LeBron reportedly filed an official request for a number swap with the league, one which it doesn’t even have to grant. But if he were to sign with a new team like Chicago, an official number change request would be unnecessary, as he would have his pick of any number. So if he didn’t have to make a big show of the number change (assuming he does go to Chicago), why did he?

Three reasons:

1.) While not the main reason, marketing does play a role, as always. While LeBron currently sits second on the jersey selling charts, a little more publicity certainly couldn’t hurt. The more people talk about the new number, the more likely they will be to want to buy a jersey wherever he goes.

2.) I really do believe that LeBron wants to show the world how much he appreciates Jordan. Instead of just signing with Chicago and switching – because the Bulls aren’t taking down No. 23 for ANYBODY, not even LeBron – LBJ probably saw this as a good chance to say thanks to Michael once again. So the tribute itself isn’t really offering to cease wearing No. 23, but rather just publicly honoring MJ’s greatness, again.

3.) For my money, this is the reason that looms the largest: It’s quite possible LeBron made the change public in an attempt to use the proclamation as a smokescreen for his eventual move. If fans (specifically Cavs fans) were able to read into the official number change request as proof of James staying, than so be it. It’s likely what he was hoping for. Only I’m not buying it. To me, instead of it being a smokescreen, LeBron tipped his hand.

So often we hear about how playing in a legend’s shadow is undesirable for current stars. But why would that be true? And for that matter, WHEN has that ever been true?

Shaq and Kobe chose to go to/remain in Laker purple and gold, for the same team that Kareem and Magic played for.

In 2008 KG accepted a trade to Boston, in an attempt to win a championship in a city where Bill Russell won NINE.

In 2007 Dwight Howard signed a lengthy extension with Orlando, a city in which Shaq first burst onto the scene so many years ago. And no Shaq didn’t win a title with the Magic, but he was Orlando’s Superman. The very moniker Howard now claims.

Shadow? What shadow?

If anything, players seem to be motivated by posting up shop on an idol’s former turf.

On a recent Bill Simmons podcast, ESPN NBA Insider, Chad Ford, had a great LeBron/Chicago story. The summary being that upon hearing where Jordan used to eat after every Chicago Bulls home game, Lebron started making the same place HIS Chicago post-game meal stop. Continuing the pursuit of being like Mike, LeBron even began requesting the same waiter and booth that MJ once used.

Ford then claimed that very same waiter told him LeBron has already confessed that he will be a Bull next season. While that may seem a little far-fetched, it is abundantly clear that Jordan’s enormous and legendary shadow doesn’t frighten LeBron in the least.

James actually seems to yearn for it.

The requested jersey switch foreshadowing is just a theory of course, but the signs all seem to be pointing towards the Windy City as LeBron’s next destination. The only question being, will it be Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudamire who joins him?

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  1. scottmcgrath47
    June 29, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    Does this column seem outdated already given the “summit” last night? How the winds of free agency blows, no man will ever know.

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