Money, power, respect…and charity?
Observing fans while covering sports, a ubiquitous expression persists. It’s an expression of excitement generated by accomplishment and also fraught of consummate publicity. The consistent publicizing of an athlete’s professional performances, salary, stats and even social whereabouts generate worldwide buzz, and when a fan knowing of that buzz sees an athlete in person, fantasy becomes reality. LeBron James is the first sports social media megastar. He has become arguably the most scrutinized athlete to ever live mainly because of social media and his career will be spoken in love and hate long after he retires. ESPN’s broadcast of his much talked about decision to leave Cleveland casts him into a world exclusive of sports and more defined through the lens of entertainment. Since it appears casual fans (read: new money) are more interested in news buzzing off the floor as it relates to what culminates on the floor, LeBron might as well do something that has never been done in pro sports…
Become the first hired gun superstar.
What if LeBron James signed one year deals for 30 million (with a player option for the second year) with a different team each season for the rest of his career? How would that ratchet up the ante? How would that change the way ownership values its labor? You don’t think teams would pay a luxury tax to sign him? Apparel sales would shoot through the roof. The NBA would be on more televisions in markets across the world simply because of the anticipation of him signing. On the day LeBron is to sign with his next team, open up all apparel stores immediately after his choice is made. Fans are waiting hours in line for retro Jordans? What do you think fans would do the second LeBron put on the jersey of their favorite team?
He’ll be damned in the court of public opinion regardless of what team he plays for in many circles, but will not lose a bit money in any instance. In fact, he’ll command a lot more and drive market value skyward.
In doing so, no matter where he decides to play in the upcoming days, what if he also asked teams to throw in a couple of million to improve education in the inner city? Players are always asked what do they do for their fellow man and LeBron definitively gives back, but owners are never asked this question. The charitable contribution would be great for NBA public relations and owners who otherwise didn’t have a shot at winning a title would instantly become favorites to win an NBA championship with the best player in the world on the roster.
LeBron would potentially catch Michael Jordan quick in the number of chips being the centerpiece of any title contender, and the league would generate unforeseen revenue through all the transactions for the team he signs with and also for the rest of the teams lining up to defeat LeBron’s new team. His versatility would be an asset to any team on both ends of the floor, so chemistry wouldn’t be an issue.
The NBA would skyrocket in popularity through the number of conversations both publicly in the media and privately among fans.
In fact, every star should do this. Why should players sign for less after sacrificing so much during the lockout (LeBron lost 3 million alone). What about the owners? Players are labeled as greedy overpaid malcontents daily, so why shouldn’t owners take a pay cut in the name of winning? Especially after claiming losses of 1.1 billion the three previous years before the new CBA was signed. That number simply cannot be right considering global revenue not on the books, and do you honestly think David Stern would have held on to his job as NBA commissioner if the league suffered that big a number in losses?
Think of it this way: Michael Jordan made $63, 280,000 combined in his last two seasons with the Chicago Bulls before he was essentially cut. That was sixteen years ago. If the league robbed Jordan, considering his financial impact on the NBA and the economy at large, why should LeBron James even think of taking a pay cut in any years of his career considering how he’s upped the value of Miami and Cleveland previously as well? Fans are indifferent to Kobe Bryant signing for 2 yrs./48 million at this stage in his career, but what about his value to the team and the league before he signed his current deal?
What is LeBron James’ value to the league? Consider none of the elite free agents are signing before James makes his decision. One man has frozen a 19 billion (not an exact figure, but if the Clippers are worth 2 billion, you do the math) dollar corporation and the most he can earn is 30 million?
We all should be talking ARod money in regards to LeBron as much as we’ve all said his name during the season an now in the free agent signing period.
Since LeBron left Cleveland for the Miami Heat, the majority of articles written on the NBA either focus on him, the winning and losing of his team, or searching for an anti-LeBron. The page clicks with him in mind before, during and after he makes a decision will be generated seemingly forever. What about the global jersey sales, hotels and restaurants patronized by fans and media when he’s in town, the brands the world over he’s pitching, Nike shoes and apparel sales, gate receipts, kids picking up basketballs for the first time because of him, etc.? When James left Cleveland in ’10, Northern Ohio lost 150 million in revenue simply because the Cavaliers didn’t make the playoffs that season. Yes, he’s earned an estimated 450 million over the course of his career, but that number surely pales in comparison to the money the league and its owners have pocketed since James became such a polarizing yet shrewdly beneficial economic force for the NBA.
Chandler Parsons just signed an offer sheet with Dallas for 3 yrs./45 million; Gordon Hayward a 4 yr./63 million offer sheet from the Charlotte Hornets. John Contract money? And one of the reasons for the lockout was so the owners could save themselves from making stupid business decisions?
How can Mickey Arison and Pat Riley ask LeBron to play for 20 million a season if Hayward and Parsons, who each have never even sniffed an all-star appearance, are set to make 15 million per (on average) year? Parsons stands to make more money than Dirk Nowitzki? That’s crazy. NBA owners are robbing its stars of cash and though fans see players earning dollars off the floor in endorsements, they shouldn’t let the owners off the hook for what is made in market value on the floor.
LeBron James is on everyone’s lips whether he’s loved or hated.
When Miami won an NBA championship in 2012 a year after losing in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, much of the hatred of James dissipated. Something changed this year, and a conversation trending sane quickly transformed into insanity; the initial hate now encapsulated and refocused, and many fans wanted no part of a Miami Heat 3-peat. While fans sought to prove a point about assumed inadequacies of LeBron, the debate became LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan instead of LeBron James vs. the current NBA. That conversation was a major topic of conversation on social media and subsequently became a quick fast way for publishers to generate page views. New San Antonio Spurs fans cropped up everywhere as an alternative to Miami, and the most hated/loved athlete in sports was surely the object of ire arguably more than every other NBA player combined. That Miami was a team in the spotlight coming off consecutive championships and playing in its fourth straight NBA Finals, the league has never been better from a buzz standpoint in large part because of the conversation surrounding LeBron James.
As James is set to make one of the biggest decisions in his personal and professional life, he’s in a position to change how athletes conduct themselves off the floor even more. He’s as intelligent a businessman as sports has seen and since he’s yet to sign a max deal, he’s about to attract the most money available. Yes, he’s rich and quickly becoming one of the wealthiest celebrities on the planet, but in saying that, why should he continue to directly and indirectly stuff the coffers of his employers? Why not maximize earning potential while also asking the league to give back to the demographic it benefits from the most, young Black males of the inner city?
No player in the league should make as much as LeBron James, but since he’s the leader among NBA men, every player should follow his example, and begin to realize their worth and earning power instead of strictly shilling an NBA product to consumers the world over in the name (and constraints) of a multi-million dollar contract.
This would go a long way to educating athletes and also the masses of empowering themselves financially. If something like this did go down, what do you think should be the reaction of fans and media?