The biggest sporting event this summer isn't a game. The climatic moment won't be a walkoff homer, a buzzer-beating jumper or an overtime goal. It will be a man signing his name on a piece of paper.
The man is LeBron James, and the piece of paper will be an NBA contract. The question is, which team's name will be on the contract? Will it be the Cleveland Cavaliers, with whom James has spent all seven of his NBA seasons? Or will it be the Chicago Bulls or New York Knicks or New Jersey Nets or Miami Heat or some other team? Free agency in the NBA - and the official LeBron James Sweepstakes - begins Thursday.
We looked over the sports stock market to determine whose stock is rising and whose is falling, starting with the LeBron James saga.
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|Stock rising||Stock falling|
|Chicago Bulls||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|The Bulls are working deals to clear as much salary cap space as possible and should have more than enough money to pay LeBron, right. Furthermore, with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the Bulls can give LeBron better supporting players than any other team. Chicago makes sense.||Maybe LeBron's loyalty will convince him to stay, but doesn't it feel like he'll never win a title in Cleveland? The best athlete in town since Jim Brown appears to have a foot out the door, and the Cavs couldn't convince Michigan State's Tom Izzo to come coach. Losing LeBron might kill the fan base and could be a death blow to the organization.|
|U.S. soccer||Italian soccer|
|The loss to Ghana on Saturday in the knockout stage doesn't even matter. That the United States overcame some shoddy officiating and advanced beyond the first round of World Cup is a reason to celebrate. Americans are still supposed to be novices at soccer, and yet we're among the 16 best soccer-playing nations in the world. Take that, Planet Earth!||We could pick on France for its massive meltdown at the World Cup, but the French were lucky to be in the tournament to begin with and weren't expected to do much. But Italy was the defending champ and couldn't get out of the first round despite being in what was regarded as a weak group.|
|The city doesn't have a plan to build a stadium for the Rays. It doesn't even have a definite location for one. But it has a major-league baseball team making googly eyes at it.||Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, left, fired a warning shot over the heads of St. Petersburg political types last week by mentioning a five-letter word: T-A-M-P-A. The mayor and City Council and everyone else can scream all they want about leases, but it feels like the Rays are starting to collect moving boxes.|
|USF football||USC football|
|New coach Skip Holtz had a nice recruiting year and inherits a pretty decent team, including an exciting quarterback. There is every reason to be bullish on the Bulls.||What an embarrassment. A bunch of infractions ended with a two-year bowl ban, four years of probation, scholarship losses and the removal of several victories. Question: How in the world does athletic director Mike Garrett keep his job?|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||Chicago Blackhawks|
|We're not predicting a Stanley Cup, or even a playoff spot, for next season, but it feels as if the dark days of the franchise are over thanks to a new owner (Jeff Vinik), what appears to be a sharp new general manager (Steve Yzerman, right) and a bright young coach (Guy Boucher).||The Windy City is still picking up confetti from its Stanley Cup parade and already the Blackhawks are giving away key pieces of the Cup-winning team to stay under the salary cap, trading Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel. Apparently, winning comes at a very hefty price.|
|Along with the Olympics, the World Cup was the most anticipated sporting event in the world this year, but now the soccer championship seems actually to have captured the attention of Americans. More than 13 million watched the United States play England in the group stage, and those numbers are a big deal.||Last week John Isner, far left, and Nicolas Mahut, near left, played a match that lasted more than 11 hours over three days because of a fifth set that lasted 138 games, with Isner winning 70-68. And where we did we watch? On ESPN's far outpost ESPNU because the major ESPN channels were locked into the World Cup.|
|Yankees and Red Sox||Tampa Bay Rays|
|In the baseball season's first two months, the Yankees were hit by injuries and the Red Sox slumped. But both survived and entered this weekend locked in a tight American League East race with a team you might have heard of. It seems as if it doesn't matter what happens in April and May, the Yankees and Red Sox are always alive and well in September.||The Rays' impressive fast start seems like another season now, doesn't it? The team has struggled at the plate all season, but at least the pitching had been solid. Lately, however, the starting rotation has developed chinks. You get the feeling the next month could determine the Rays' fate this season, and if it's anything like the past month, it won't turn out well.|
|Tampa Bay Bucs||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|They won't be a playoff team this year, but think back to where they were a year ago. Raheem Morris had taken over as coach. Jeff Jagodzinski was the offensive coordinator, Jim Bates the defensive coordinator, and the result was a mess. Morris has a year under his belt and put himself in charge of the defense (his specialty), new offensive coordinator Greg Olson has a clue, the Bucs' draft appears to have been good, and there's hope.||Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is suspended for the first six regular-season games for being a first-class creep. The Steelers traded Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes in April because he was a knucklehead. And they play in a division with a team that looks poised for a Super Bowl run (Ravens). It might be a good idea for Steelers fans to watch reruns of the 2008 Super Bowl season instead of what could be a train wreck this season.|
|Jack Nicklaus/PGA field||Tiger Woods|
|For reasons why, see "Stock falling.''||Tiger, left, is 34 and should be in his prime. But problems off the course have him in a holding pattern. He hasn't won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open and remains stuck at 14 major wins, four behind Jack Nicklaus' record. It once seemed inevitable that Tiger would break that record easily, but now it doesn't appear so certain. And if Tiger isn't winning majors, that means other players are. And it appears he might lose a couple of bucks in a divorce settlement.|