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LeBron James signs deal allowing him to play for all 15 Eastern Conference teams

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In a landmark agreement, NBA Commissioner Larry Stern has given the green light to a plan that allows free agent LeBron James to play for all 15 NBA Eastern Conference teams, sources said late last night. The deal, which emerged as a rumor just days ago, will become official when James announces the pact on “The Decision,” a special live one-hour ESPN broadcast to be seen tonight at 9pm.

Financial figures have yet to be disclosed but it’s estimated the deal will net the basketball superstar nearly $1 billion.

While full details of the group signing will be unveiled during the telecast, a source close to the meetings said that James will play on a rotation basis that will keep him based in Chicago mainly due to geography but he’ll play home and away games according to need, availability and personal choice. “He may play for the Bulls in Chicago or for the opposing team in Chicago,” the source said.

“On a given night, he could show up in Milwaukee, Miami, Phoenix, San Antonio, Toronto — any Eastern Conference uniform, any time. He could play against Kobe in LA for Washington if he wants to be in LA at that moment. It’s conceivable that LeBron may be playing in your city and could be with you or against you, it all depends on what he wants to do. It’s certainly going to keep people on edge up to gametime and fill seats because you just never know where he’ll be.”

Early speculation had LeBron staying in Cleveland but the Cavaliers were unable to sway a big man into the mix to balance the offense, mainly because the focus has been solely on retaining James, the 7-year veteran and 2-time MVP. Members of the sports media had been speculating that this has been Cleveland’s problem all along in retaining James and this lack of companion talent planted the seed for him to seek a championship elsewhere rather than stay in his Ohio hometown. Said J.A. Adande on his Twitter page: “The Cavs would still need work with LBJ and that’s been their problem all along — and the reason he left.”


NBA analyst Tim Legler said that earlier in the evening it looked like everything was falling into place for LeBron to end up in Miami. “It just seems like that’s the vibe that’s out there,” he said prior to the commissioner’s statement. “There’s been so much speculation about the three of them (James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh) playing together and now, Bosh is already there. You’re talking about a dream team with those three guys paired together. It’s very difficult for LeBron James to say no to that.”

Yet on most nights, that’s exactly what James has done. “It doesn’t mean he can’t be part of that dream team any night he wants,” one analyst said. “But he’s also contractually obligated to play for Charlotte, New Jersey, Washington and Philadelphia.” The Bobcats stood as the final hurdle in the arrangement as they were unable to fit their portion of LeBron’s contract under the salary cap. It was the commissioner’s raising of the cap by $2 million per team that made the deal viable for some teams and allowed the framework to progress.

The sign-and-trade of Bosh to Miami began a push towards the Heat while Chicago’s signing of free agent forward Carlos Boozer seemed to set the groundwork in motion on a deal with the Bulls. Chicago signed Boozer to a 5-year/$80 million deal on Wednesday and he immediately reached out to James about the possibility of playing together in Chicago. Boozer and James played one season together with the Cavaliers before Boozer signed with Utah in 2004. Even more recently, at least one NBA player thought that the location of Greenwich, Conn., for tonight’s special meant LeBron’s decision would be to sign with the New York Knicks.

“At some point, he just decided to go with everybody,” the player said. “He’s always wanted to play for Pat Riley but he loves Chicago and will be a star in Miami but he still has strong feelings for Cleveland and does a lot of work in New York and has some family in Milwaukee, Atlanta and Indianapolis. He also has great respect for Larry Brown, Doc Rivers, Flip Saunders, Mike D’Antoni, Avery Johnson and Jim O’Brien and can’t wait to play for them and Stan Van Gundy. The question is how well he’ll fit into the day-to-day schemes along side guys like Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings. It’s like playing for the Olympic team but a different country every night. It might take some adjustment for everyone.”

Taxes were also a consideration. Signing with the New York Knicks would cost LeBron an estimated $12 million on a $96 million contract; $10 million if he signed with New Jersey and $5.6 million if he stayed with Cleveland. “By spreading it around the league, the bite isn’t so bad,” a member of LeBron’s accounting team admitted. “He wasn’t going to sign with the Knicks — that’s hilarious. Seriously, I can’t watch that team if I’m paid to and sometimes that actually is my job. It’s brutal.”

It’s not understood how the set-up will work during the playoffs without upsetting the integrity of the game and league officials are said to be addressing that. James may or may not have to commit to one team at the beginning of a playoff series rather than bouncing from bench to bench based on how the series is going. “You can’t have him with Boston and then Orlando and then back to Boston,” one official said. “It gets messy.” However it can be assumed that James cannot be eliminated from a playoff series because his contract allows him to play for the eventual Eastern Conference representative.

“The focus for LeBron is to just beat the Lakers,” an ESPN staffer said. “He wants to be bigger than (Los Angeles). When LeBron finally gets his title, you could potentially have car fires in the streets of 15 major U.S. cities — because they all feel like they’re a part of it — not just one city for Kobe in downtown LA. He’s the Phil Mickelson of the NBA and you’ve got a lot of East Coast cities that have been wanting to celebrate a championship for a long time. This thing is bottled up.”

Meanwhile, all is not setting well in Cleveland, likely to lose exclusivity to James this evening. “He wants a ring, I understand that and this pretty much guarantees that,” said Cavaliers season ticket holder Bob Guerrero. “But it’s not going to be pretty when he comes back to Cleveland. Not pretty at all.” Street vendors near Quicken Loans Arena have already been seen hawking “King Pariah” shirts and say that they’re selling well.

While fans are already grumbling about this divided loyalty, NBA executives are said to be quite enthused at the marketing possibilities with LeBron’s new #6 emblazoned on 15 different home and road jerseys. “A rapper like Lil’ Wayne might collect all 30 plus who knows how many special throwback and promo jerseys they add on top of that,” said one marketer who works closely with the NBA. “He wants to call himself King James? Well, there’s no question who the King is anymore.”

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