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July 8, 2010 4:01 PM

Why LeBron's Staying in Cleveland

lebron james502.jpgWhen I heard about the ESPN special, I thought it would be an unmitigated disaster. I couldn't believe that LeBron could have such poor PR advisers and that he could be this disconnected from the national pulse. But then I realized that, chances are, he's not. In fact, LeBron and his team know exactly what they're doing, and it's brilliant. He's taking heat for the special (no pun intended), but by intentionally raising public ire (and, in effect, lowering expectations), he's setting himself up for a PR bonanza. Before we get into that, though, here are a few random thoughts as we count down the hours before "The Decision":

1) Chicago is still the best option.

I've argued repeatedly that Chicago offers James the best opportunity of any of these teams. I suspect he's listening to people advising him against playing in "Jordan's shadow," but, for the last time, the Windy City offers James the best chance to win, expand his global profile (because you do that by winning) and establish a lasting legacy as Jordan's direct successor.

And, shouldn't a player of LeBron's abilities want to take up that challenge. Shouldn't he jump at the chance to match and possibly exceed Jordan's accomplishments. If MJ is James' hero, wouldn't he want to be as closely associated with him as possible?

2) The hour-long special could be a public relations disaster for LeBron (if he doesn't do what I think he's going to do)

Even though ESPN has been committed to carrying his water since he entered the league, which means he'll have boatloads of apologists eagerly defending him no matter what happens tonight or for the rest of his career, he looks presumptive and obscenely arrogant by hosting a one-hour special devoted to himself. He'll make it even worse if he stabs his hometown in the back. He'll suddenly go from "chosen one" to "hated one" and will face extraordinarily high expectations anywhere except Cleveland.

LeBron is a lot of things, but he's not dumb, which is why I don't think any of this happens.

3) New York is complete hype.

Sure, it sounds good to say you're going to rejuvenate basketball in the greatest city on earth, but, remind me again, how does he plan to do that? He certainly isn't doing it with Mike D'Antoni and Amare Stoudemire, definitely not in year one, possibly never. Why would he waste valuable years waiting until the Knicks build a championship-caliber team? He won't.

Which means...

4) He's going back to Cleveland.

LeBron is simply not cold-hearted enough to destroy his hometown. He knows the sports agony that Cleveland has suffered though, and this would top nearly all of it (heck, I'm from Pittsburgh, and I'd even feel bad for them). He also knows how unforgiving fans in that city can be, which is one reason why he's coming back.

Also, this is the one decision no one will fault him for. Everyone can relate to the emotional tug of home, and all of us respect loyalty. Therefore, by going home, he defuses criticism and eases expectations. And, keep in mind that he'll be returning to one of the best teams in the league, which gives him a chance to win immediately.

And, long-term? It's a win-win. The worst case scenario is that he wins a handful more MVP Awards, has several more deep playoff runs, and retires as the undisputed best player in Cleveland sports history and one of the best in NBA history. The best case scenario is he wins a handful of championships and is in the Jordan debate.

So, with everyone riled up, ready to pounce on his decision and pick it apart, LeBron will do the one thing that everyone can understand, get behind and respect him for. Tonight's announcement will be a love-fest for Ohio that will not only endear him even further to his hometown fans, but, since we're all going into this so eager to hate him, it will make us respect and pull for him even more. It's a brilliant strategy.

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