If LeBron James Is Really Smart, He'll Stay a Cleveland Cavalier...at a Discount
Let's all agree on one thing right out of the chute—barring some astoundingly cataclysmic decision-making, LeBron James will never have to work on a budget.
In fact, it would take just run-of-the-mill bad decision-making for any future generations possessing a drop of King James' blood to ever find themselves worrying about greenbacks.
The sum total of the dude's personal fortune is already mind-boggling and LeBron is only 25 years old. There's the money he's made directly from the National Basketball Association, which is considerable.
But the real cash cow is his stable of endorsements—a group that started with a stallion in Nike's $90 million jackpot and presumably has grown exponentially the further LBJ has gotten from high school.
That's a safe presumption considering his roster of corporate sponsors includes the Swoosh, Sprite, McDonald's, Upper Deck, and State Farm, i.e., some of the heaviest hitters in the ad game.
However, what's truly staggering is that all of the above will be mere drops in James' financial bucket (which is probably better approximated by one of the Great Lakes) when all is said and done.
That's because LeBron James has become more than a corporate pawn , he's become an actual corporation.
Compensation for professional athletes is cute and all, but chief executive officers are the true fat cats (for a real hoot, check the "Oil and Gas Operations" category). Since it's, you know, his corporation, King James's pay scale will stay very much in the regal range once he retires from basketball.
The reality is that LeBron James will transcend rich and become wealthy if he plays in Cleveland, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Timbuktu. His fame is already sufficient to be a traveling circus, bringing the money press along with it.
I mention this because, as everyone knows, the Chosen One must now make The Choice.
Once his promising Cleveland Cavaliers were bounced from the interminable NBA Playoffs by the Boston Celtics, the summer on pins and needles began for basketball fans everywhere, particularly in the Sixth City.
It will end once LBJ announces where he will ply his superlative wares in 2010-11.
Consequently, economics would normally be of paramount concern since they are for most free agents. Except that James—more than virtually every other pro—can't pretend "need" and "more money" should ever reasonably collide in a sentence from his mouth.
Yet, early indications are that the dollar sign is winning the race, with a strong push from ego.
To me, the special New York Yankee line of his footwear , his statement that he'd play overseas for the right price, and his stated desire to change the paradigm for superstar athletes all indicate that the Akron native will be packing his bags for the Big Apple.
Most of what James does and says hints of an underlying desire to maximize his absurd earning potential—as well as all others like celebrity—and NYC is undeniably the easiest place to do just that.
Especially since LeBron James will also win wherever he plays—his dazzling commercial profile parallels a blinding on-court version. Sooner or later, either by luck or intent, management will surround him with enough ancillary talent to grab a championship or 10.
Like his wealth, his ring is a matter of when instead of if.
Which is why I really hope I'm wrong about his destination.
For his good and that of his home away from home, I desperately want LeBron James to stay and win with the Cavaliers.
To me, that'd be a lot more interesting than another champion from New York if only because the Statue of Liberty will see another NBA winner eventually.
The city draws uniquely gifted performers to it like a flame does moths.
Cleveland? Not so much.
As a local kid, LeBron James has to know this. He has to know the Cavaliers are up the proverbial creek without him; if he leaves, the team and the city will NEVER land another icon like him unless it produces an heir.
Since the King looks like a once-in-a-lifetime package, that seems highly unlikely.
He is Cleveland's Obi-Wan and he has to know it.
What remains to be seen is whether the Chosen One realizes his quickest route to validating the moniker is to be paid like a mere superstar on the shores of Lake Erie.
The best way to achieve his championship aspirations with the Cavs would be to leave room in the budget for some help.
Given that his salary should ultimately get lost in his greater sources of largesse, James could afford the best of all worlds.
He could stay in his hometown (essentially), leave enough money in the larder for more elite complements, still get paid an obscene amount, come off as charitable, get his championship(s), and prove he's got more heart than ego.
Not only that, LBJ would be loved in Cleveland as a member of the family.
In New York, it wouldn't and couldn't be the same. New Yorkers have seen too much and boast too many local heroes to ever embrace a foreigner to their collective bosom with both arms.
He would be revered, to be sure, but he would also be resented in most other parts of the country.
If not loathed.
And that's important because the most indelible legends have been written by men who did not jump ship.
Men like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Barry Sanders, and other true immortals may have been traded away or cast aside.
They may have even retired, but they did not hop beds in their prime.
Let alone on a hometown one for reasons as mortal as ego and greed.
Nope, if LeBron James leaves Cleveland, he will most certainly become great.
But he will only become the greatest if he stays.