The shock of seeing LeBron James in a blinding white Heat jersey was still fresh, and Spike Lee was searching for the right words. Eventually, he decided to borrow some.
â€œWe got hoodwinked. Led astray. Hornswoggled,â€ said Lee, the award-winning director, punctuating his delivery with a playful chuckle. â€œWe got bamboozled.â€
Those were Malcolm X’s words, and Lee knew them well because he wrote them into the script for his 1992 biopic on the civil-rights leader. In the film, Denzel Washington memorably intones the phrases in the climax of a speech in Harlem.
They felt oddly applicable last week, after James spurned five suitors, including Lee’s hometown Knicks, to play in Miami. Lee badly wanted James in New York but said he was fine with the decision. It was the process that bothered him.
â€œIt was rigged,â€ Lee said, now summoning inspiration from Oliver Stone.
As with any great conspiracy theory, the backstory is key. James is close friends with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who committed to the Heat on Wednesday, a day before James did. All were drafted in 2003. They spent their summers bonding as members of the United States Olympic team. And in 2006, all three opted for short contract extensions that would make them free agents together in 2010.
On July 1, they were the most coveted players on the market. James met with the Knicks, the Nets, the Heat, the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Clippers and his own team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wade and Bosh were wooed by the Bulls, the Knicks, the Nets and the Heat. Wade spoke twice with Chicago, his hometown team.
The race seemed wide open.
When the veteran N.B.A. reporter Stephen A. Smith asserted two weeks ago that James, Wade and Bosh would unite in Miami, his report was widely dismissed as conjecture or fantasy. On Friday, the trio was dancing on a stage in Miami.
Of course, looking back, there were those reports of a â€œfree-agent summitâ€ involving the three stars. There was the photograph, posted to Bosh’s Twitter account July 1, showing Bosh and Wade at dinner, with the caption, â€œIt feels like someone is missingâ€¦â€
â€œThis is nothing but a pure Corleone gangster move,â€ Lee said, now borrowing from Francis Ford Coppola. â€œIt was laid out. This didn’t happen by happenstance.â€ He added, â€œThey made people look like idiots. They had the thing planned out two years ago.â€
If the Brooklyn-born Lee sounds betrayed, it is because he was more than a bystander in this saga. The Knicks sought out his assistance on their free-agent presentations. He attended their planning meetings. He was in the room with team officials on the day that Amar’e Stoudemire agreed in principle.
There were rumblings in Cleveland that the Knicks blew their presentation to James. Hogwash, said Lee (who used a stronger term).
â€œI was there for all the run-throughs here in New York,â€ he said. â€œIt was on point.â€
As for those rumblings? â€œPure sabotage.â€
Instead of James, the Knicks got Stoudemire, an elite power forward who qualifies as more than a consolation prize. Lee was beaming at Stoudemire’s introductory press conference â€” â€œI’m energizedâ€ â€” and he claimed no bitterness over James joining a hated rival.
â€œThe man did not want to come, so how can you be disappointed?â€ Lee said, adding, â€œHe wanted to be in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. These guys get in front of Pat Riley, and he shows them those rings and they lose their mind. Pat Riley gets people in his spell, and it’s, â€˜Whatever you want to do, Coach.’â€
(A reference to Svengali, perhaps?)
It leaves Knicks fans in a familiar position: rooting against the game’s greatest players. Lee spent the 1990s barking at Michael Jordan and baiting Reggie Miller and savoring every victory over them. Lee’s fondest wish now is to deny James any shot at the title.
â€œHe’s a self-appointed king,â€ he said. â€œWe’re not bowing down. Uh-uh. Not bowing. I don’t care who they got.â€
If nothing else, this historic, often-gaudy, occasionally bizarre free-agent season should make for a fantastic screenplay.
â€œCahoots,â€ Lee said. â€œThat’s your title.â€
Off the Dribble Blog – NYTimes.com