Once known as the NBA's most powerful agent, David Falk is watching the LeBron James free agency with interest, albeit from the sideline. The longtime agent to Michael Jordan, Falk stressed that he has no inside information on James' future, and that he's guessing just like everyone else.
But when Falk said in a telephone interview with Newsday this week that he thinks James is either staying in Cleveland or signing with the Miami Heat, that opinion carries a little more weight than, say, the dozens of callers who have been making predictions all week on sports talk radio.
As for why he doesn't see the Knicks as one of James' best options, Falk dismissed the widely circulated belief that the main reason for James to come to New York would be to raise his marketability.
"As someone who has represented the most marketable athlete in history, I don't believe that in 2010 you need to be in New York to be marketable," he said. "You could be on the moon with the social media today. Put it this way: Could LeBron generate much more hysteria than he's generated from Cleveland this week? How much more attention could he really get if he lived in an area other than Cleveland?"
Falk, who grew up in Seaford and is now based out of Washington, D.C., pointed to Jordan's success in Chicago as an example.
"I never told him, 'If you leave Chicago and go to New York or L.A., you're going to be more marketable,' because I didn't believe that," Falk said. "That was 15 years ago, and I think that's tenfold today. Marketability should not be the controlling factor."
So what should be the determining factor? Falk thinks James' decision will go a long way in determining his legacy, so finding a place where he can win should be of the utmost importance. "You can't criticize LeBron if he goes to a place because he thinks he has a better chance to win," he said.
And clearly the Heat, having just Wednesday retained star guard Dwyane Wade and added forward Chris Bosh to the fold, present perhaps the most immediate opportunity for James to win his first championship.
"It's a pivotal moment in his legacy because 20 years from now guys in a barber shop will be saying, 'Who's better, Kobe, Jordan, LeBron or Bill Russell?'" Falk said. "They'll say Russell had 11 titles, Jordan had six, Kobe had five, Wade had one. How many did LeBron have? Now if the answer is zero, well, he's made the wrong decision. This is not about money. It's about his place in the sun."
But as outsiders have dissected James' potential landing spots in recent weeks, so much has been made about his potential earning power in each spot. He has said he wants to be a billionaire, so would teaming up with the Nets and their new owner, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, help?
Along the lines of James' marketing, Falk said he has challenged Maverick Cater, James' manager, to "raise the bar" from what Falk accomplished in creating the Jordan brand.
"You can't create a Jordan clone of a legacy, because that legacy belongs to Jordan," Falk said. "If you emulate, that's a compliment from a competitive standpoint . . . But don't keep doing it the same way. Your responsibility if you're Kobe or LeBron is to raise the bar for the next generation of athletes."