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Amid Media Hype and Cleveland Hopes, LeBron James Moves to Miami

July 9, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, speaking of LeBron James, we turn to the considerations and consequences, athletic, financial and otherwise, behind James’ decision to take flight elsewhere.

After all the attention and all the hype, NBA superstar LeBron James finally answered the question on everyone’s mind about halfway through an hour-long special on ESPN last night.

LEBRON JAMES, NBA player: Man, this is very tough. And, this fall, I am going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Before James could utter another word, pandemonium broke out in Miami, where fans gathered in bars and outside the team’s arena celebrated the addition of the league’s top free agent and reigning MVP.

In addition to winning the LeBron James sweepstakes, the Heat also scored commitments this week from two other highly-sought-after players and free agents, Chris Bosh and Miami’s own all-star, Dwyane Wade.

The mood in Northeast Ohio, where James grew up and played for the Cleveland Cavaliers for the past seven years, was starkly different. A few angry Cleveland fans took to the streets, lighting James paraphernalia on fire. They also expressed their heartache with words.

MAN: He’s one of our own. That’s what makes it so painful.

MAN: I — I knew it was coming. I mean, it’s Cleveland. We’re used to disappointment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The bitterness was shared by the Cavaliers organization.

In a letter to Cleveland fans, team owner Dan Gilbert wrote, “This was announced with a several-day, narcissistic, self-promotional buildup culminating with a national TV special.” The letter goes on to describe James’ decision as a “cowardly betrayal.”

Beyond the emotional anguish, James’ departure will also hurt the team’s bottom line and, some contend, the economy of Cleveland. The value of the Cavs franchise has grown by more than $200 million since James was drafted in 2003. And some estimates claim that he brought over $100 million in revenue to the city each year.

Now some of that money could go to Miami, which immediately looked to capitalize on the LeBron brand, printing up T-shirts as soon as the announcement became official. James himself also stands to benefit financially from the move. He could have signed a richer contract if he had stayed in Cleveland, but still is expected to earn $15 million a year in Miami, plus endorsement money on top of that.

For more on what the LeBron James move means, we turn to two people who followed the story closely.

Kevin Blackistone is professor of sports journalism at the University of Maryland. He’s a regular commentator on ESPN and a sports columnist for AOL FanHouse. And Richard Deitsch, a reporter for “Sports Illustrated,” he writes the “Media Circus” column for, and he joins us from New York City.

Thank you both for being with us.

Kevin Blackistone, what do you make of the decision?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE, sports commentator, AOL: Well, I was disappointed. I had hoped that he would stay in Cleveland.

I certainly understand his desire and his right to exercise his free agency ability. But I think that this was just handled horribly. Here was a guy who had had a very fine career in the NBA, not only on the court, but also off it too. He was one of the most beloved players I think in the league.

And I think that, overnight, he villainized his personality in the way in which he departed Cleveland. He did it from a distance. He seemed to do it coldly, with calculation. And I think that really turned off a lot people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Richard Deitsch, how did you see it?

RICHARD DEITSCH, “Sports Illustrated”: I agree with Kevin.

I think it was a cold and callous kind of thing to go on television, in sort of a one-hour information basically, saying goodbye to Cleveland, and thanks for the memories.

I certainly don’t begrudge LeBron for trying to go to a team where he thinks he’s going to win multiple championships. And the Heat certainly give him that opportunity more than the Cavs. But I thought he could have handled it in a less narcissistic way, where maybe a quieter announcement that wouldn’t have really, painfully hurt the Cleveland fans. And just like we saw in the opening to your piece, there is really a lot of sadness today in Cleveland.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Richard Deitsch, are you saying that, if he had announced it differently, it would have gone down a whole lot better than it did?

RICHARD DEITSCH: I think the Cleveland fans still would have been upset. But I think there was a better way to do this, at least in terms of showing a little graciousness to the fans that had supported him for years.

There’s no reason, again, that LeBron should have stayed in Cleveland. He wants to cement his legacy in Miami with better players. But I think the idea of hosting a national special, in which his people set this up with ESPN, ESPN ceded the time to them, it just — it came off a little sort of self-aggrandizing and narcissistic to me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kevin Blackistone, why do you think he did it? Do you take him at his word that he just wants to win?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Well, I think he does want to win. And I think his people may have gotten in his ear and convinced him that Cleveland wasn’t a place to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean his people?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Well, his — the people who surround him, who run his marketing campaign, who run his business efforts, all of those people, some of whom are longtime friends of his.

And I think, you know, when you compare Cleveland to Miami, the palm trees to, I don’t know, what do they have, oak trees and pecan trees in that part of Ohio, I’m sure that that got the better part of him.

And there is also another part to this, too. He has been in a very close relationship with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who obviously are going to be playing in Miami. And this — this — what happened yesterday was kind of set in motion a few years ago, when all three of these guys signed new contracts that would allow them to exercise free agency, as they did just on Thursday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, speaking of that, Richard Deitsch, I mean, was this a serious search, or was this something that you think could have been in his mind all along?

RICHARD DEITSCH: I should just also let Kevin know that the Rock and Hall of Fame is in Cleveland, so they do have some things there.


RICHARD DEITSCH: No, I think the plan was hatched, as Kevin said, maybe as early as 2008. These guys played together at the Olympics. And I think they wanted to play together all along.

I think there is a part of Cleveland that tugged at LeBron, but I’m not sure I believe that he woke up yesterday and made the decision. I do believe these guys have been talking about this for a while. I think they certainly had a right to talk about this. And I think they set in motion a long time ago that, if they had the opportunity, they were going to create some kind of dream team.

And, obviously, Miami, it is a major market. It is a beautiful place to live and play. It really sets these guys up for something unique that we have not seen in sports, certainly not in the NBA for a while.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Kevin Blackistone, what does it say that the players were calling the shots here, and not the owners, which is usually the case?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Right. The game changed when they opted out of signing long-term deals with their respective clubs just a few years ago.

And, all of a sudden, it became the players, and not the owners and general managers, who were going to go out and organize the type of team that they wanted to play for. So, this has been a pretty significant shift, I think, in the foundation of professional sports, certainly when it comes to professional basketball.

We have talked a lot — a lot about what would happen if professional athletes ever realized that the power that they had collectively if ever they would coalesce. And, this time, three guys actually did. Now, I think that — I don’t know that this going to impact the membership of the Players Association, but, obviously, for elite players, this was a big deal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Richard Deitsch, do you think this is a permanent shift in the balance of power? And help us just quickly understand the economics for these teams.

This team, Miami, is paying these three players a huge amount of money. What do they get out of it? Is it — it’s more fans. It’s — what is it?

RICHARD DEITSCH: Well, it’s a good question, Judy. You know, some would estimate that one playoff game would produce 10 million more dollars in revenue for the Miami Heat.

So, think about this. If this team ends up going to the finals, that’s 14, 15 extra dates, so you could do the math there. There is increase when it comes to in-stadium sponsorship. There is an increase when it comes to ticket sales.

The Heat have already sold out their season tickets. They’re going to be able to — at least the tickets that they held back when it comes to single games, they are going to be able to price that differently. If they want to charge more for a better opponent, they are going to be able to do that.

The media deals that they cut with South Florida cable markets, they’re eventually going to be able to get better ad rates there. So, you know, someone in Miami, in one of the newspapers today, called him a walking free-throw-shooting stimulus package, LeBron James.


RICHARD DEITSCH: And that — that’s a pretty good line. He really will add millions and millions of dollars to the bottom line of the Miami Heat and the businesses outside of that arena.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And not just LeBron James, but Bosh and Wade.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What does — on one team, what does that mean for the game of professional basketball?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Well, in one sense, I think it’s a great thing, because, all of a sudden, NBA is being talked about in the off-season.

Right now, traditionally, in sports, we would be talking about the baseball All-Star Game coming up on Tuesday. We would be talking about the start of NFL training camp in a few weeks. But, instead, we’re talking about the NBA.

It’s — David Stern must be loving this.


KEVIN BLACKISTONE: And, clearly, the interest will continue on into the season.

I think there will be a lot of fans who will all of a sudden have a tremendous dislike for the Miami Heat because they seem to be taking over all of the interest in the NBA and set up this dream team, as has been pointed out. So, I think it generated a whole lot of interest for the NBA that they couldn’t have dreamed of a year ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Richard Deitsch, where do you see it going from here? Do you see this ill will toward LeBron continuing?


And Kevin makes a great point. You know, one of the great things about sports is when you have a villain. And I think the Miami Heat have probably set themselves up to be either the most loved or most hated team, not just in professional basketball, but I think in sports.

And if there is one person happier today than LeBron James, I think it is NBA commissioner David Stern, because you cannot buy this kind of publicity.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Richard Deitsch, Kevin Blackistone, we heard it here. Thank you both.