By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
James, the 25-year-old superstar and arguably the planet's best basketball player, will on July 1 become the most coveted free agent in the history of sports. Free to sign with any team—the Mavericks would most likely try to trade for him using Erick Dampier's $13 million expiring contract as bait—his services are creating quite the frenzy.
President Barack Obama is urging James to sign with the Chicago Bulls. New York has promised him a key to the city if he joins the Knicks. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $100,000 just for publicly salivating—er, tampering—over James before he technically becomes available. Fans are convinced he will win multiple championships at his next destination and business models are estimating James carries with him a staggering economic impact of $2.7 billion.
In Dallas, there abound LeBron LeFantasies.
The most prominent is a spin-off from www.lebrontothemavs.com, the brainchild of Shaun Dodge. It was his bright idea to organize a LeBron flash mob on this, the first Saturday in June. According to the group's Facebook page, at noon in the food court of hoity-toity NorthPark Center mall, hundreds, if not thousands of Mavericks fans/James fawners will stop their seemingly innocent meandering, suddenly jet into formation and perform a dazzling dance routine to the Dallas String Quartet remix of "C'mon LeBron."
Mall patrons will be astounded. Some might even momentarily stop texting. The oil leak in the Gulf will magically stop. Then someone will throw the video up on YouTube, LeBron will watch it, digest the impressive support and sign with Dallas, transforming a franchise with zero championships into a dynasty for the next decade.
One problem. Um, nobody's here. The clock is striking 12, but exactly nothing is happening.
Take that back. Up on the second level there's a guy ordering lunch at Sonic. A woman pushing her baby in a stroller is mulling the menu at Tin Star. Down below there's activity, but it centers on a CBS 11 promotional event involving the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, the Mavericks dancers, Miss Fort Worth and two old dudes on a "Stephanie's Day" stage. As they strum their guitars and make muzak only a 4-year-old could love, the mall's only audible enthusiasm is generated by the nauseatingly positive mom: "Are you dancing? You are! You're dancing!! Look at you dance!!!"
At 12:15 I ask the two cops overlooking the drab proceedings what the what?
"Yeah, we heard something about it," officer Troy Allison says of the flash mob. "I guess it fizzled."
Too bad, I tell him, because maybe it would have helped bring LeBron James to Dallas.
"Who?" Allison asks sheepishly. "Sorry. More of a football fan."
Flash mob notwithstanding, surely Dallas knows what's at stake here. LeBron?! About 6-foot-8, 250 pounds? Wears a headband? That will soon be a crown? The Chosen One? King James?
Hey you, mall walker in the snappy straw hat.
"Sorry, I don't want to take no survey."
No, it's about James...
Certainly the two floppy-haired teens in Mavericks T-shirts will know. They look like flash mobbers if I've ever seen them.
You guys here for the flash mob?
There's a father-son duo wearing No. 41 Dirk Nowitzki jerseys.
"I don't know about any of that," dad says, followed by one of the most confusing lines I've ever been dealt. "My son got me dressed today."
Tons of folks in here. But none of them knows—much less cares about—James. The girl in the Larry North Fitness half-shirt? Nope. The 60-ish black man in the Mavs cap. Nada. The family of four headed to see Shrek Forever After? "We're running late. Sorry!"
While waiting in line to meet Miss Fort Worth, I strike up a conversation. James Calvin III has corn rows. A grill. And no care for the cause.
"I'm here on vacation from St. Louis," he says. "Why would I want LeBron to leave Cleveland?"
Ashley Melnick's beauty is breathtaking. But her sales pitch to LeBron—like the majority of this mall's style-over-substance zombies more consumed with their cell phones and fashioning sweaters tied around their waists on a 100-degree day—is baffling.
"He's a basketball player," Miss Fort Worth says confidently. "For the...Lakers?"
It's official. We don't know LeBron from La Madeleine.
Or do we? Muscled-up, bald white dude: LeBron James ring a bell?
"I was locked up in prison and all they watch in there is basketball," says Chad Cox as he waits to get an autograph from two Cowboys Cheerleaders. "I got sick of basketball."
There is no follow-up.
"Only Dallas," Richards smiles, "has the Cowboys cheerleaders."
But what of the flash mob that turned fizzled glob?