Seven Points On LeBron James and the State of Basketball

People watch a news ticker concerning NBA's LeBron James' televised announcement, in Times Square in New York July 8, 2010. James confirmed on Thursday he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat next season. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY SPORT BASKETBALL)

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Over the past 24 hours, the sports world turned its attention from football, both American and foreign, to Lebron James. ESPN took a page from the NFL’s playbook to air a 60-plus minute special for LeBron’s 30 second announcement that he is leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat. Here are seven Hog Heaven thoughts about LeBron:

LeBron’s Smart Set-Up–LeBron did what I wish more athletes would do. He signed a two-year deal with the Cavaliers in 2008 to set-up the auction for his services in 2010. Veteran athletes tend towards long-term deals, often to become dissatisfied when their performance outruns their pay. That’s where the spectacle of Terrell Owens or Albert Haynesworth come from. Those guys clamor for the certainty of income while passing the injury and performance risks to their team. Then try to pout their way out of their deal if they become unhappy.

If athletes want the flexibility to max their future income or leverage their performance against their team, then take a short term contract like LeBron did. Worried about injury? That’s why you buy insurance. LeBron didn’t go to college and he’s figured this out. Kudos to him.

The Cult of LeBron–James has yet to lead his team to a championship, yet his fans call him The King. The whole promotional campaign around his decision has been masterful. Let’s not be too critical here. Pro-basketball encourages personality cults. Basketball fans seem to crave it more than in other team sports. (My opinion only. Comment if you disagree.)

Why not just name the team after the biggest star? Hasn’t Cleveland been more about LeBron than Cavaliers? It’s just a matter of time before some clever Miami pr type starts referring to LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosch as the “James Gang.”

$100 Million Club–If a teen-age athlete asked my career advice, I’d push him towards basketball, baseball or even that Euro football thingy if he wants in on the $100 million club. Pro football players have shorter careers, earn less money and have higher risk for life-long affliction from the game than players of either of the B-ball sports. It’s rare in the NFL for anyone other than quarterbacks to get nine-figure contracts. There is that one deal with that one defensive player. (Down here in Washington, we don’t speak his name except to spit on it.) For every other NFL player, it’s a rare deal.

The Inmates are running the NBA asylum–That’s the impression left by “the decision.” News accounts in the lead up to LeBron’s announcement said that James met with Dwyane Wade and other free agent players to coordinate their contract demands and more. Wade and Chris Bosh signed with the Miami Heat before James’ announcement. Season tickets for Heat games sold out in half a day, also before James’ announcement. So roster decisions are set by a cabal of players rather than teams. If James, Wade and Bosh were companies instead of individuals, their actions would have been an illegal conspiracy in restraint of trade.

How is this good for the NBA? Live by the sword, die by the sword. The NBA fosters player cults more than a sense of team or even of titles, or defense. The average NBA team is valued at $350 million or so. Its top stars have contracts worth one-third of that. Those same stars have endorsement deals that may match the value of their contracts. The league lives by player cults, but the players aren’t as dependent on the NBA as in the NFL. That doesn’t strike me as healthy business climate.

More of these nine-figure contracts for the NBA’s biggest stars mean lesser deals for the grunts who fill out the roster.

How is it that the LeBron James and not the NBA promoted that whole ESPN show? I can’t image that the NFL, and certainly not a Daniel Snyder, would have let that golden goose slip through its fingers.

Poor Cleveland–LeBron leaves a legion of heartbroken fans in Cleveland, for whom I feel genuinely sorry. But how could the Cavaliers leave themselves so vulnerable? Crain’s Detroit Business suggests that the Cavaliers will lose $250 million in value simply by losing LeBron. James was the one positive face Cleveland put out to the world. There’s no Brady Quinn to fill the void. Eric Mangini is a void from an image standpoint.

How could a well-managed team have it’s value so tied up to a single player and lose him? How can Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who couldn’t win a title in seven seasons with LeBron, guarantee to win a championship before LeBron gets one in Miami?

Would Tom Izzo have made a difference? Uh, no. Gilbert is a Michigan State grad. For a brief moment, the Cavaliers dangled the head coaching job in front of Spartans men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo who wisely declined. Gilbert is a big supporter of Spartan sports, I bet. So Izzo would have had to talk to Gilbert as a courtesy if nothing else. But Izzo reportedly couldn’t get LeBron to return his calls at the moment the king was orchestrating his future. It seems that neither Gilbert nor any coach he brings in factored in LeBron’s thinking.

I like the effort. but it was a waste of effort.

Sigh! Twenty more days ’til training camp.

Point After: profootballtalk.nbcsports.com–LeBron situation brings player-to-player tampering into focus

Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.

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