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Dear LeBron: Please Stay Away from NYC

LeBron James: Big wingspan. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
Dear LeBron,

The fact that you've finally registered for a Twitter account suggests that a decision about your future team must be imminent.

You would make this long-suffering Knicks fan very happy if you stayed with Cleveland or signed on with any of the suitors who have been slobbering over you for the last week. Whatever floats your boat - just stay out of Madison Square Garden (except in a visitor's jersey.)

No doubt this is a distinctly minority opinion among Knicks fans, so let me explain my disregard for public opinion.

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Straight off, I openly acknowledge that I'm old school. (Old fart, more accurately, since I saw my first professional basketball game at the old Madison Square Garden in the mid-1960s.) In any case, I suffered with the rest of New York fandom through the lean years when the Knicks were led by the likes of Walt Bellamy and Butch Komives.

Then came those wonderful championship seasons and a brief run of glory that earned a special spot in New York basketball lore. I know there have been better starting fives, but you can't do much better than a team that featured Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Dave Debusschere, Earl Monroe and Bill Bradley. And that bench: super-subs like Cazzie Russell, Dave Stallworth, Jerry Lucas, Dean Meminger, and a defensive specialist in the person of Phil (Action) Jackson. All the while, coach Red Holtzman wisely oversaw the strategy from the sidelines.

This crew won championships because they practiced what Holtzman preached about teamwork. Nobody genuflected before a "superstar." That wasn't part of the basketball lexicon. My Knicks were different. They played basketball punctuated by pinpoint passing, stifling defense and brilliant improvising - every night it was jazz in gym shorts. Did it matter that they didn't socialize off the court? Nobody cared. When it came time to punch the clock, they checked their egos at the door and it was all for one and one for all.

It was purely coincidence but these Knicks also rose to the pinnacle during a fractious time in our nation's history. Watching how these individuals put aside whatever superficial differences existed in pursuit of a greater good was a feel-good story we wanted to buy into. Not to make too much of this but it gave the rest of us hope that yes, perhaps this great, sometimes flawed experiment called America really could work.

So here comes the big slam? No, I'm not going to draw an invidious comparison. I'm sure that you would like nothing better than to put a championship ring on your mantle alongside two well-deserved MVP awards. And if you came to New York, the Knicks would turn into contenders.

But you don't really belong in New York, do you? And it's about time we were honest about this. If all this wasn't all about the almighty buck, you wouldn't be acting the role of public Hamlet. Sign with Chicago and you'll have a much better shot at winning a title. Or stay put with Cleveland, where a strong veteran nucleus already is in place.

But neither of those venues offers what the Big Apple can financially and if New York's general manager Donnie Walsh convinces you to sign on the dotted line, you'll be well on your way toward becoming basketball's first billionaire. That's the real story here. I do get it: This would be for the greater glory of LeBron, the marketing brand par excellence.

The clock is winding down so you need to decide the story line here. Do you want to be remembered as just another (very, very wealthy) hired gun? New York's had more than a few of those over the years - none of whom are loved, let alone respected. To be fair, you're only exploring the same options offered to other free agents, such as New York's newly-acquired forward Amare Stoudemire. (He bid goodbye to Phoenix Suns fans with a Tweet: "I want to say thanks to all my SUNS Fans. Thanks to my PHX SUNS teammates, an the Coaches. I love you guys, sorry It didn't work out. Gone!")

Not exactly touching but this is the reality of contemporary professional sports. George Steinbrenner showed the way in the 1970s by paying top dollar for top athletes and other sports have followed his example. But if you decide to come to New York, I have a couple of concerns:

First, the organization is going have to break the bank to accommodate you.

Second, the Knicks would morph into a 24/7 ego-thon dominated by a cult of personality the likes of which we've never seen. If you thought we were overexposed to Michael Jordon commercial pitches in the 1990s, I shudder to think what lies in store if you take your act to Broadway.

I'm sure there would be no shortage of Madison Avenue sycophants ready to advise you how to turn this into an "all LeBron, all the time" extravaganza. I dread that sort of freak show and what it portends for the increasingly quaint idea that the game is supposed to be about the team, not the individual.

Yes, I know. I'm a relic.

So it goes. Besides, the only time I pay attention to what Mad Men have to say is when they appear on AMC.


An Old School Knicks Fan

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