LOS ANGELES — Wall Street's bulls are betting that LeBron James ends up playing basketball in New York, not Chicago.
Despite President Obama's hope that the NBA free agent will leave his native Ohio for the Windy City, traders are betting that the superstar will announce on Thursday that he's leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to play for the New York Knicks.
Shares in Madison Square Garden Inc., the owners of the Knicks, jumped $1.30, or 6.4 percent, to close at $21.57 Wednesday, adding 3 cents in extended trading. Volume was up dramatically at 1.7 million trades, more than five times the daily average of 311,000.
The basketball star is set to announce his decision during a one-hour special on ESPN at 9 p.m. Thursday.
James' potential arrival in New York would boost the value of the franchise by "hundreds of millions of dollars," said Gabelli & Co. analyst Christopher Marangi.
The team could see about 10 percent more revenue, while the MSG network could get 10 percent more advertising revenue, he said.
"Would landing LeBron add to the economic value of the enterprise? The answer to that is unequivocally yes," he said. "The second question is what are the Knicks' chances of actually getting him? The market is saying it thinks better of the chances today than it did yesterday or before the weekend."
Adding to the speculative chess board was Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh's announcements Wednesday that they would play for the Miami Heat.
Marangi said those decisions instantly made Chicago a less attractive option for James while Miami's chances of winning the NBA Finals would go up dramatically with all three stars on the team.
But the Knicks entered the free agency shopping spree with the most salary cap room in the league with $34.1 million – enough for two players earning the maximum salary. After the team's acquisition of Amare Stoudemire from Phoenix, it still had $17 million to spend on James.
An ESPN executive says James will announce his future NBA plans within the first 10 minutes of Thursday night's hourlong broadcast, hosted by Jim Gray.
ESPN says Gray and James will be in one location. A person familiar with the plans, however, tells The Associated Press the interview will take place at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, Conn.
The broadcast also will include a long-form interview with ESPN personality Mike Wilbon and others via satellite from ESPN's studios in Bristol, Conn.