Wooing LeBron James: Politicians Shamelessly Courting NBA Superstar

Politicos Pleading for an NBA Superstar

July 1, 2010 -- That sound you heard at midnight? It was the floodgates opening as the quest to snag NBA superstar LeBron James officially began.

Today marks the start of the NBA's free agency season, the time of year when players whose contracts have expired can entertain offers to move to new teams.

This year, there are 10 of the league's top players offering their services to the highest bidder, but the biggest prize is King James, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player who virtually single-handedly turned the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers into a title contender.

James, 25, has eager suitors across the nation giddy with visions of championship trophies. The New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and his current team, Cleveland, are all making the big push to snag James and each one is willing to pay top dollar to bring him to their team.

The courtship of James may be the biggest free agency signing in NBA history -- so big that even elected officials are weighing in.

Of course it's nothing new for politicians to shamelessly beg on the campaign trail. "I need your vote," is perhaps the most often-heard mantra as Election Day draws near.

But usually the politicians are focused on their own jobs. Today they are clamoring to help James sort out his employment status, and nowhere is that effort greater than in Ohio.

Buckeye State Gov. Ted Strickland and Sen. Sherrod Brown, both Democrats, joined with local celebrities and ardent Cavaliers fans to win over James' heart with a song that was straight to the point -- "Please Stay LeBron."

The lyrics are anything but subtle: "Please stay LeBron, we really need you, no bigger market's gonna love you half as much as we do."

The Strickland/Brown chorus even slammed one other notable city vying for James' skills.

"New York's overcrowded, Those people are unbearable, And don't forget, the Knicks and Nets are terrible," they sang. "Please stay LeBron, we really need you, no bigger market's gonna love you half as much as we do."

James' hometown of Akron, Ohio, just 40 miles south of Cleveland, declared June 19 to be "LeBron Appreciation Day." Thousands of fans came to the event, which doubled as a rally to convince James to stay put.

The NBA superstar made a surprise appearance at the end of the event and his comments had the state buzzing to determine hidden meaning.

"Akron is my home, it's my life," James said after he accepted Akron's first Hometown Hero Award. "Everything I do is for this city. I'm going to continue to do great things. I love every last one of you all. Akron is home."

James Becomes Campaign Material

The courtship of the Cavaliers star has even seeped into Strickland's reelection battle against Republican John Kasich.

Kasich, a former congressman, mocked the Democratic incumbent and his music video, saying in an interview last month that he's "not singing in any chorus" to sway James to stay in the state.

Kasich said that compared to the nearly half-million Ohioans who have lost their jobs, he's not worried about James' employment status.

The Ohio Democratic Party responded by setting up a website called "Ohioans Against LeBron," which prominently featured Kasich's picture

The New York Knicks are one of the top teams in the running in the LeBron James Sweepstakes and Mayor Mike Bloomberg made a personal appeal to get James to play in the Big Apple.

"Come on LeBron -- write the next chapter in NYC basketball history," Bloomberg said in a video that features sweeping views of New York City and boasts of the culture and excitement it has to offer off the court. "As the good book says, 'lead us to the promised land,' and that's a quote from the King James version."

On Wednesday, Vice President Biden threw out his own prediction at a political fundraiser in Ohio that "LeBron James is coming back" to Cleveland.

Even President Obama couldn't resist putting in a pitch for his beloved Chicago Bulls.

"You know, like I said, I don't want to meddle. I will say this: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah -- it's a pretty good core," the president said in an interview with TNT during this year's NBA playoffs. "You know, you could see LeBron fitting in pretty well there."

James has made it clear that the chance to win an NBA title will drive his decision about where to play next season.

So are all these politicians wasting their time focusing on what their city and fans have to offer?

"If you emphasize all the off the court stuff more than the basketball, then you run the risk of insulting LeBron James and certainly you won't get him based on your off-the-court stuff," ESPN's Chris Broussard said.

The Knicks and Nets met with James today in the Cleveland office of his business manager. The Heat are expected Friday. The Bulls and Cavs solicit James Saturday. No deal can be signed until July 8, when the NBA's new salary cap takes effect. It leaves fans searching for any source of insight. Even a psychic's.

"It doesn't appear to me that he really wants to move," said Gina Kruzel, who has been reading Tarot cards in Cleveland for 28 years.

Her surety is not enough for those in Cleveland who worry James will leave them in a lurch.

"It would be good for sports, I think, for a hometown boy to actually stay with his hometown and be loyal," one fan from Cleveland said.

A Matter of Civic Pride

But no matter what happens, Akron Mayor Donald Plusquellic wants his citizens to remain calm and take no offense.

"There are people who will be mad at him personally," Plusquellic said. "He has been very clear in every statement that he has made: Akron is his hometown.

"He needs to sign for two or three more years and give what he promised: one ring," said one man.

Cleveland is used to having its heart broken. The city has never won an NBA title -- in fact, it hasn't won any sports titles since 1964.

James has played his entire pro career in Cleveland, entering the NBA straight of out high school. He is the city's most famous resident and arguably the most famous athlete in the nation. For Cavaliers fans, he's their local boy done well and their best hope for sports greatness.

For Cleveland fans, keeping their hometown hero LeBron James is about civic pride -- but a championship would be nice, too.