CHAPEL HILL, N.C.–Shortly after LeBron James announced his decision to sign with the Miami Heat Thursday evening, residents of Cleveland, Ohio—a place fraught by every imaginable misfortune—began mandated preparations to burn their city to the ground and move to Florida like everyone else.
Stop, drop and roll, Cuyahoga County—you have a new savior to call your own.
In a unprecedented move, incoming University of North Carolina freshman basketball star Harrison Barnes declared himself available and eager to sign with the ailing Cavalier franchise.
“I invited you all to this press conference today, heretofore, to discuss, with your willingness, my immediate future plans,” Barnes said Friday morning.
“That is, I would like to be the next LeBron James, please and thank you.”
Holding forth in the nasal voice that has become his trademark, Barnes outlined his plans to solicit a hefty contract from distressed Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, and told members of the press that he had already discussed his uniform number with incoming coach Byron Scott.
“After a few weeks of shooting hoops here in Chapel Hill, I just really think I’m ready for the next level,” he said. “The NBA just calls to me.”
Barnes’ mother Shirley flew in from the family home in Ames, Iowa to provide “some moral support” for her son in a transitional period.
“Harrison Bryce Jordan Barnes just has so much to give,” the proud mother said.
He started watching Nova at three years old, and he asked for the complete works of Bill Shakespeare for Christmas. Now how many young men do that?”
Mrs. Barnes added that Harrison had maintained a 6.0 grade point average at Ames High. A recorded greeting at the office of Barnes’ former high school revealed that it, too, is moving to Cleveland.
In an e-mail, Ames freshman Kayla Rasmussen declared, “We go where Prince Harry goes!”
Prince, indeed. Barnes has a chance to start at small forward from his first day in Cleveland, and should usurp several veterans still in search of the Rust Belt city’s elusive first NBA championship.
“Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, they’re nice fellas,” Barnes gesticulated with a chuckle. “Didn’t Moon have like, six rebounds against the Raptors once last year? I look forward to teaching them all I’ve learned this summer here at UNC.”
When reminded that former Tar Heel stars Danny Green and Jawad Williams would likely be his teammates in Cleveland, Barnes momentarily fell silent.
“Oh, right! Danny really cut the rug at the Alumni Weekend Ball last year. I’m sure he’ll be the life of the party on the team bus.”
But Tar Heel country is unlikely to be partying after this jolt of news. Last season, the team salvaged a 5-11 conference record with a daring run to the NIT championship game, but fans were jumpy for Barnes to lead their team back to their rightful place—the Big Dance.
As such, early afternoon patrons of the popular Chapel Hill bar Players were predictably distraught.
“But, he promised!” said sophomore Leigh Anne Clayton, a lifelong UNC supporter from nearby Pittsboro. Turning around on her barstool, Clayton pointed out a tattoo near her waistline. “That’s H, for Harrison. And the heart and crown, ’cause he’s the king of my heart, you know?”
Regardless of the local mood, Barnes insists his weeks in Chapel Hill were highly educational. He cited a correspondence course at the Barack Obama Center for Elocutional Studies, whose office in the Dean E. Smith Center basement opened last fall.
“Listen: the hard-scrabble, Main Street folks in Cleveland deserve a second chance at victory,” Barnes said. “It’s not only what I believe, it’s what’s right.”
Shirley Barnes noted that Harrison’s early acceptance into the University’s prestigious Kenan-Flagler undergraduate business school still holds weight.
“With Harrison’s 13 A.P. [Advanced Placement] credits, he’d be only a few courses away from graduating if he ever wanted to come back and get his degree.”
It’s doubtful, however, that the hoops-rabid community would welcome him. John Swofford, commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference and a former UNC Morehead Scholar, issued a press release from his home in Greensboro Friday afternoon.
“In light of this recent news, the ACC will re-open the voting for conference Player of the Year,” the release read. “We will also withdraw our nomination of Mr. Barnes for the Barbara Walters Most Fascinating People of 2011.”
But Swofford was only the tip of the iceberg.
In his wood-paneled office, beleaguered Tar Heel coach Roy Williams was stunned by the announcement from his “thoroughbred.”
“It was just last weekend we were out shopping for suits,” an aghast Williams said, pausing to grab a Coke from his mini-fridge and fiddle with his cell phone.
“Do you know how to use these things?” Williams asked, tapping the phone’s screen. “I’ve been trying to Skype him all morning.”