"This is nothing but a pure Corleone gangster move."
-- Spike Lee, director, Knicks season ticket holder
About the same time Spike Lee spilled his guts to Howard Beck (@howardbecknyt) about LeBron James' decision to take his "talents to South Beach," I was in the offices of Shoals, Ziller and Moore pitching my cinematic version of this epic American story.
Turns out, Spike and I were thinking along the same story lines.
With apologies to Chris Bosh -- who along with James will join Dwyane Wade in Miami -- he doesn't need to make a documentary about his free-agent journey from Toronto to Miami. Bosh can save his tax-free cash from your huge new contract. The story he plans to tell has been told. If anyone wants to get an idea on how the Heat wooed James and Bosh to accompany Wade, all you need to do is pop in "The Godfather" and imagine Heat president Pat Riley as Don Vito Corleone.
The parallels between America's most-beloved gangster family and the NBA's most gangster team are unmistakable.
And we're not talking gangster with an "a" as in "gangsta" like the 1983 overrated version of "Scarface." That's the film of choice for a younger generation who believe Tony Montana is an icon. Montana, though, is an outsider lost in his own hubris and mounds of cocaine. His American dream crumbles and eventually he finds himself face down in a shallow pool mixed with his own blood.
(Plus, the Howard Hawks' 1932 version of "Scarface" with Paul Muni, was far better.)
No, the Al Pacino-version of "Scarface" was far too pessimistic for this crew. They are not outsiders like the Cuban refugee, Montana. They're not fighting the system, they are products of a system that they know too well: the NBA salary cap era.
What the Heat pulled off was gangster, pure "family." As Lee intimated and what Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, what LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Riley pulled off was highly organized. And to many NBA fans, especially those in Cleveland and one in Dallas, a crime.
"The Godfather'' is told entirely within a closed world. That's why we sympathize with characters who are essentially evil. The story by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola is a brilliant conjuring act, inviting us to consider the Mafia entirely on its own terms. Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) emerges as a sympathetic and even admirable character; during the entire film, this lifelong professional criminal does nothing of which we can really disapprove."But like the Corleones, Riley, Wade, James and friends played the game as they knew how. They used their influence, their leverage and their connections to build the organization they wanted, just as the Corleones used politicians, the police and the press. If some hearts were broken and some blood spilled, it wasn't personal.
-- Roger Ebert's review of "The Godfather"
It was business.
If you needed any further proof that Riley is Don Corleone, just check out the photo in this New York Times article. All Riley is missing is the cat in his lap. Come to think of it, the cat's there in that Cheshire grin. He sees an empire before him and it has the potential to be a dynasty.
Has Riley done anything wrong except consolidate the best players onto one team? Looking at it from purely a basketball angle, it makes perfect sense. Who wouldn't want to? Fans, writers and experts are shocked by the audacity of the moves. But they shouldn't be. There had been signs for years, starting in 2006 when James, Wade and Bosh could have taken six-year deals, but each chose three-year deals to keep options open, not only to possibly play together in 2010-11, but also to beat the 2011 lockout clock.
Then they put their brilliant plan into motion this offseason, going to the mattresses during the free-agent period. They had their meetings with the heads of the five families (the Knicks, the Nets, the Cavs, the Bulls and the Heat). But that was just window dressing as Wade, who had visions of the Larry O'Brien Trophy being baptized with Champagne, while he had the heads of four of the five families (imagine the Knicks' Donnie Walsh as Moe Green, the Raptors' Bryan Colangelo as Barzini, the Bulls' Gar Forman as the mobster trapped in the revolving door and Mikhail Prokhorov as Bruno Tattaglia, killed in bed with a beautiful woman), assassinated. While that was shocking in itself, and perhaps even more shocking, is they managed to keep this audacious plan from the press until it played out publicly Thursday night.
In the end, when presented with this beautiful basketball scenario, James and Bosh got offers from Riley they couldn't refuse.
Finally, it's also hard not to imagine the Heat capturing the title, taking the O'Brien trophy and not celebrating on the floor, but doing their business behind closed doors.
Then, reality will set in on NBA fans as it did Kay Corleone. You'll see the result, but you won't be allowed to know about the machinations behind it. The realization will soon set in for NBA fans and expert observers alike: this is the game, the life you have chosen and we will live -- like it or not -- with the consequences for a very long time.
Pat Riley as Don Vito Corleone
-- He built his empire -- and essentially his reputation -- with the Lakers. Then he saw others (Pistons) and hubris (grinding Knicks, Heat) chip away at that legacy. As long as the old man was alive, he still had some juice in that reputation (see also, 2006 NBA title). But as he fades into the background (he won 15 games in his last full season as coach), he has passed his wisdom and his business acumen on to ...
Dwyane Wade as Michael Corleone
-- Thanks to his "Aw shucks!" smile, no one thinks of Wade as cold-blooded killer ("That's my family. That's not me, Kay.") But remember, Michael is a highly decorated war hero (2006 Finals MVP) and he's brilliant and calculating in his own right. Everyone thinks of James as the one pulling the trigger on the Cavs and their fans in public, but it was Wade who offed Solozzo (played by Cavs fans, essentially people who want in on the action like Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo does) and Capt. McCluskey (representing the power of the Cavs organization) in Louis Restaurant in the Bronx. And guess what? Wade got away clean. According to Windhorst, Wade knew what he wanted and implemented the Don's plan to get it. The Heat remain Wade's his team and Miami is his town. He has the ring the other two want to kiss.
When the three players were introduced in Miami, which player was in the middle in the Godfather spot? Wade.
(And for those of you questioning the casting of the oldest player of the three as the youngest Corleone son, think of it this way: Wade was drafted behind LeBron and Bosh.)
LeBron James as Sonny Corleone
-- Sonny, outwardly the most favored son and heir apparent to the title of Don Corleone, is a hothead who starts a (bidding) war between the five families and ends up being riddled with public relations bullets at the toll booth of fame. It will be up to ...
Nike as Amerigo Bonasera, the mortician
-- If anyone can repair LeBron and make him presentable to the public, it's Nike. Let's just hope they don't crank out the NBA version of this.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert as Jack Woltz
-- After denying Johnny Fontane the movie that he so desperately wanted and dismissing Hagen with a string of ethnic expletives (no word if they were printed in the script as Comic Sans MS), he wakes up the next morning to find the head of his prize racehorse, Cavalier, soaking the foot of his bed with blood. That's what Woltz gets for letting it get personal.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra as Tom Hagen
-- Adopted son and family consigliere that eventually gets pushed out of his role near the end.
Heat owner Mickey Arison as Clemenza
-- He's the muscle (money) behind the operation. Without it, the family can't operate and the genial Don Riley gets to be the public face of the family.
Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy as Paulie Gatto
-- Paulie is the Don's chauffeur/body guard who called in sick the day Solozzo's hitmen shot Vito five times. With the Don critically wounded, so is the Corleone empire. Van Gundy had trouble protecting the Heat empire. Both Paulie and Van Gundy were whacked. Who knows if cannoli were involved in Van Gundy's departure.
Chris Bosh as Fredo Corleone
-- This is not to bang on Bosh's intellect -- he was one of the first NBA players to embrace YouTube and Twitter -- but this is more of a pecking order casting. He's seen more as the guy who is the least talented of the three Corleone sons. He should know his place: he's the kid riding the handlebars of a tandem bike being pedaled by Wade and James. If he gets out of line, it's not hard to imagine Wade shooting him a "never take sides against the family again" look. Also, who's the first player the Heat take out in a row boat in Biscayne Bay if the NBA's hard-cap scenario comes to fruition? Fredo. No doubt.
Trista Rehn as Kay Corleone
-- The former Heat dancer who was burned on the first season of "The Bachelor" was awed by the glamour of the "reality" show only to be burned by the reality of life. Sure, she eventually got a husband and kids out of it, but at the price of her dignity.
Michael: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.Any Heat Dancer as Connie Corelone Rizzi
Kay Adams: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don't have men killed.
Michael: Oh. Who's being naive, Kay?
-- Used more as a plot device to move the story along in this very, very male world.
Kobe Bryant as Carlo Rizzi
-- It's not hard to imagine him (and his Lakers) garroted by the Heat in The Finals this season.