Suddenly chastened by criticism he has received for making the NBA's spring and summer all about him, LeBron James has informed teams that he is not planning to participate in an elaborate free agency tour come July 1, a person familiar with the decision confirmed to CBSSports.com Friday.
So much for a lavish recruiting dinner in a Manhattan penthouse or a tour of the best clubs South Beach has to offer. Not going to happen, said the person with knowledge of James' plans.
Maverick Carter, James' business manager, told ESPN The Magazine that teams were informed of James' plans Wednesday and that the free agent-to-be will meet with suitors at a neutral site.
The decision by James may help cleanse his battered image after speculation over his future singlehandedly hijacked the NBA postseason and draft. It also could be viewed as a blow to teams in big, glitzy markets that have been planning for months to roll out the red carpet for one of the most sought-after -- and attainable -- free agents in NBA history. The Knicks, for example, have been quietly contacting world renowned chefs in Manhattan to secure their services for a possible free-agent visit by James and other free agents. Titans of business, film, theater, and fashion also were at the ready to help the Knicks lure James to New York -- although a person with knowledge of the Knicks' free-agency prep work downplayed a published report this week of a penthouse extravaganza in James' honor in Manhattan on July 1.
But contrary to prevailing opinion, the Knicks were not planning to rely entirely on the allure of New York and its off-the-court cachet to lure James. Though James has stated that he wants to be a world-wide sports icon and billionaire, teams hoping to win him over during the free-agent negotiating period that begins July 1 have understood all along that basketball has to come first. Teams with the cap space and market size to attract James -- the Knicks, Bulls, Heat, Nets and possibly Clippers -- have "prepared for every contingency," according to a high-level management source familiar with plans to recruit James.
On the other hand, Knicks president Donnie Walsh has the answer to one of the key questions he has been contemplating about this unprecedented free-agent summer. And while Walsh privately is telling people he doesn't see this as a deal-breaker, he was known to be interested in seeing which free agents would want to give the Knicks a chance to show them what New York -- as a city and market -- could do for them. The message from James with just days to go before the recruiting process begins is perfectly clear. There may well be a LeBron free agency tour, but it'll be on his terms.