On July 1, LeBron James becomes a free agent. NBA insiders are tapping their sources to determine where he might land next season, and we’d hate to be left out of the fun just because we don’t have any sources. Herewith, a series we’re calling “Where LeBron Should Play Next Year, According to Someone I Called on the Phone.”
For the first installment, I talked to Esther Mobley, wine critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. LeBron’s love of wine was explored at length in a February ESPN feature, and James documents his oenophilic adventures on Instagram with the hashtag #VinoChronicles.
Could cabernets and malbecs unlock the secret of LeBron’s travel plans? I called Mobley to find out. Our interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Nick Greene: Are you a basketball fan?
Esther Mobley: I am a basketball fan.
Do you have allegiances to any teams?
Well, my allegiances are torn because I grew up in Boston but I now live in San Francisco. It was easy this year, but if it had come down to the Warriors and the Celtics I still don’t know what I would have done.
You may have to confront that next year.
If LeBron doesn’t get into the wine business, I totally think he has to go to the Celtics. The Celtics would then be a really formidable opponent for the Warriors. As a supporter of the Warriors, I don’t want to see them go unchallenged like this.
If you had to detach yourself from your fandom, would you still say that?
Yes, I would. I think the Celtics could support LeBron in a way that the Cavs could not.
How about in your capacity as a wine critic and an expert in that field?
We know that LeBron and several other NBA players are huge fans of wine—California wine, specifically. Yao Ming has a winery in Napa. Dwyane Wade now has a wine label. Ayesha Curry, Steph Curry’s wife, launched a wine label, and I’ve written about that. We know LeBron loves Mayacamas Vineyards, which is one of the iconic Napa Valley wine producers up on Mount Veeder that produces gorgeous, beautiful wine. I think LeBron would be a breath of fresh air for the wine industry, and I think that the wine industry would be a breath of fresh air for LeBron.
Do you think he’d be good as a vineyard owner and winemaker?
I think he would feel frustrated at the lack of control he would have because, making wine, your own talents and abilities can only take you so far. At a certain point, you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature and whatever the Earth gives you. Seeing LeBron’s face during the finals this year, I could imagine him just crushing in anger if the grapes didn’t get ripe enough.
Could you make an argument that Sacramento is close to the vineyards he likes? Would it make sense to go to the Kings?
No! LeBron makes no sense on the Kings.
Is there anywhere else in the country that, when you consider winemaking, might have an NBA team he could think about?
I’m not going to tell him to go to the Trail Blazers. Southern California makes great wine. He could go to the Lakers and make wine in Santa Barbara. That’s an option. As far as other major winegrowing regions, he could go to upstate New York, which—no.
I think, basically, he should go to California if wine is part of the equation.
If we’ve narrowed it down to California and wine being a factor, why don’t I name the three non-Sacramento teams and see if they are viable? How about the Clippers?
If we’re just talking regionally, I don’t know how to distinguish the Clippers from the Lakers.
Not with wine, just in general.
I don’t really know enough about the Clippers to make a big assessment of that.
That seems like enough of a reason to cross them off. The Lakers?
I think L.A. could be an awesome place to land if he wants to advance his basketball career and get into the wine game. Santa Barbara County has these really interesting little microclimates that get a lot of ocean influence and make them quite cold. LeBron would be making very elegant, lighter-bodied, lower-in-alcohol wines here, which, given his drinking habits—we know he likes Burgundy—maybe that will be a good move for him.
So it sounds like it’s between the Lakers and the Warriors.
I would have mixed feelings about LeBron coming to the Warriors, from a basketball point of view. Watching this NBA Finals made me feel that the Warriors are too good as it is. They need more competition.
Going to the Warriors and to Napa to make wine would be the obvious choice. Maybe too obvious, though. I sometimes wonder if LeBron is the type to make the less-obvious choice.
Can I put you down for saying he will go to the Lakers?
Yeah, let’s go Lakers. Sure.