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posted: 5/24/2010 12:01 AM

Rose more relevant than Jordan's history

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Plenty of advice columns have already been written to help LeBron James settle on a home this summer.

Most of them can muster just one reason not to play in Chicago: The Shadow.

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Actually, there are two reasons: The Shadow and The Statue. On second thought, he'll have to consider The Shadow, The Statue and the shadow cast by The Statue.

In other words, people are assuming James would face an unbearable burden of playing in the shadow of Michael Jordan by joining the Bulls this summer as a free agent.

The idea is ridiculous. For one thing, James was already playing in Jordan's shadow. So were Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Any great NBA player is going to be compared to the greatest of all time. The ZIP code doesn't make much difference.

In the course of NBA history, playing in the shadow of success has been a good thing. Remember, 19 of the last 30 championships have been won by the Lakers, Bulls and Celtics, with another Boston-L.A. Finals looming.

Magic Johnson somehow survived playing for the same team as Jerry West. Larry Bird didn't cower from the memory of Bill Russell. Yet, we're supposed to believe Jordan's shadow is going to suffocate LeBron.

Here are a couple of emotions far more relevant to James' decision: The burden of being Cleveland's sports savior and the heartbreak he would create by abandoning his hometown.

None of us can say for sure how much these issues will affect James' thinking. Walking around downtown Cleveland during the first-round playoff series against the Bulls, the reminders were everywhere. There were T-shirts for sale, a mural on the side of a building and signs in storefronts, all with the theme, "Please Stay, LeBron." One sign featured the outline of Ohio shedding tears at the thought of James leaving.

Granted, James spends no time walking around downtown Cleveland, but surely he knows a departure would be devastating to the sports community and could have a negative impact on the economy, with fewer people heading downtown for Cavs games.

At the same time, is it fair to saddle James with an infinite responsibility to save Cleveland sports? He gave it a shot for seven years and it's not his fault the Browns and Indians haven't won anything.

James has surely noticed Bryant's arc of respect with the Lakers. Bryant was a hero when he teamed with Shaquille O'Neal for three championships, then was mocked when his team couldn't win a playoff series after Shaq left. All of the sudden, Pau Gasol showed up and Bryant was a winner again.

The star gets credit and blame, but the supporting cast makes all the difference. Sure, James could sign on for two more years in Cleveland and if there's no improvement, he could jump to the Nets in time for the move to Brooklyn.

The problem with that scenario is that James has no reason to believe the Cavs will be any closer to a title in the next two years and he'd miss a great opportunity to choose a running mate.

The city of Chicago is a great lure, but the biggest reason James is thinking so hard about the Bulls is Derrick Rose. James is very interested in linking his legacy to a humble, talented teammate who could help unleash the most devastating fastbreak the league has ever seen.

James could wait on Cleveland, join the Nets in Brooklyn or hope the Knicks can build a team around him. Right now, though, he could build a long-term relationship with Rose and Joakim Noah and see an immediate improvement in supporting cast.

The Shadow might linger in literature, but there is a good chance James will use more tangible reasons to choose the Bulls this summer.

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