“Only one thing counts in this life. Get them to sign on the line which is dotted. You hear me. A.B. C. Always Be Closing. Always. Be. Closing.” 22 years after Alec Baldwin delivered those ruthless words, the hunt and capture of Lebron James can be reduced to the same principles that punctuated Alec Baldwin’s hard driving four minute speech that lit up the screen. It was in 1992 that a merciless Baldwin played the cut-throat salesman boss admonishing his crew in the cult classic movie Glengarry Glen Ross. Baldwin devastated the audience with his condescension and arrogance as he excoriated and humiliated his employees on how to close a sales deal.
But this much is true: a deal- a real estate deal, a banking deal, a basketball deal- all deals are the same- start with the same intention. You want something that will make you some money. Perhaps it will make you happy. Perhaps it can make you a champion. Or it can change your fate. And so those who are gutting their teams or thinking about doing so, those who are packaging draft picks and worthless veterans to find a way to convince Lebron James to leave the Miami Heat, heed the first rule of the salesman. Be smart but close the deal. Be persuasive but close the deal. Be honest but close the deal.
The cities at this point are interchangeable. Whether it is Miami, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland- Lebron James wants to evaluate the sales pitch to see how far teams are prepared to go and part of that is ego but the rest of it has to do with the remainder of his basketball future. He has already played 11 seasons. His career is trending downward as far as years of service are concerned. So the plan is paramount. How can he upgrade his championship resume with a change of scenery? Who are the talented teammates? What have they done to make him believe he can trust them?
Four years ago it seemed like such a simple thing. Gather 3 of the top 5 draft picks in the class of 2003, join the same team and dominate the league with brilliance. They were right in one sense. Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh did dominate the league and they were brilliant. But the league has gotten younger and better as the Heat’s Big 3 have gotten older, especially Wade who devolved from the player he was four years ago to the decayed kneed player he is right now.
The achievement of the Heat, to their detriment, was the achievement of Lebron James. There was little to be said for his supporting cast. Michael Beasley was the same Michael Beasley. Shane Battier was at the end. James Jones hardly played. Toney Douglass was a mediocre Dwayne Wade replacement. Only Ray Allen achieved off the bench after 93 games. But at 38 years old, even for a beautiful shooter like Ray Allen, the legs got tired.
As is true of most things, the Lebron opt out is not necessarily what it appears from a distance. He has not given up on the Heat even as the Lebron James jokes have started up again. Rather, Lebron is giving everyone time to get their act together, to make a plan for him and then he will judge the results critically. He doesn’t particularly want to leave the Heat. But there can’t be another season like this one. Yes it ended in the Finals. But everyone was exhausted and then thoroughly beaten by the San Antonio Spurs, humiliated on national television in much the same way Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin and Ed Harris were humiliated by Alec Baldwin’s savagery.
The comedy of it, of teams making themselves sick in their frenzied salary clearing way, has a shelf life, a beginning and an end if Dwayne Wade opts out and takes less money. Part of the problem is solved then but for the NBA at large, for owners especially, there is a new enemy to slay. Because the Collective Bargaining Agreement and all of its anti- player judgment and clauses without mercy was supposed to prevent this. It was assumed that players were motivated by their own cravings and their own self absorption and that to take less money would be contradictory to the base level of their character. They presumed, the billionaire owners did, that for the average NBA player money would not be overlooked for something as provincial as wins or playing with friends or playing in a certain city.
As a thesis it is not entirely untrue, not on the face of it. Rudy Gay and Amare Stoudamire opted in to huge contracts paying them more than they can ever deliver which means in 2014-15 they will play on terrible teams but get a ransom amount in salary. But Lebron opted out- he opted out because he could afford to. Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh can afford to opt out too. But will they? That is the mystery.
The economics are the truth: if Wade doesn’t take less money and Chris Bosh opts in there isn’t much flexibility for Pat Riley, magician or not, motivator or not, to work with. At this point in Lebron’s career Pat Riley’s promises are nothing more than banging a drum and hearing noise. The nuts and bolts matter now. It has been a circle trip of four years, Lebron is back where he started. He needs a second scorer. He needs a creator, a driver of the ball. He needs a finisher and someone with size to rebound the ball. The small ball four year experiment won him two titles and lost him two titles and that cannot be dismissed. But as he ages and moves into his 30’s Lebron may not be able to sustain the physicality of having to chase everyone down while maintaining all of his offensive responsibilities.
Long before June and the heat of San Antonio, the NBA Finals was lost; it was lost in those 28 games in which Wade didn’t play. It was lost when the Heat’s defensive intensity was inconsistent because the roster was both jaded and older and tired. It was lost when the Heat didn’t have an adequate point guard or rebounder. It was lost because of their offense. Bosh’s perimeter shots, Wade’s driving floaters, Lebron’s post ups, transition dunks and layups were harder to come by in this their fourth year together. There just wasn’t enough talent on the roster anymore and it meant that Lebron had to do everything.
But no one can do everything and last in the NBA over time. As good as Lebron James is he isn’t perfect or inhuman. He needs others to help him.
“Attention: Do I have your attention? Interest: Are you interested because I know you are because it is f**k or walk. You close or you hit the bricks. Decision: Have you made your decision? Action: Get out there. You got the prospects coming in. You think they came to get out the rain? A guy don’t walk on the lot unless he wants to buy…You want to work here, close.” So said Alec Baldwin, 22 years ago in a classic, memorable film. So says Lebron James now after losing in the NBA Finals.
You want him? You want Lebron James? You have to go get him.