The LeBron James Business Model

Everyone who doesn’t want upward mobility and a chance to better themselves in their careers stop reading after this word —> bye.

So everyone else, what’s the problem? Why is LeBron James suddenly a villain? He did what we all aspire to do, better ourselves. We all are motivated daily to make decisions that better our lives long term. Why can’t our athletes? Is it because he makes millions and he should have to ‘earn’ it? He was blessed, we weren’t, get over it. I don’t hold LeBron or any athlete to a higher standard than I do myself. LeBron is a new-age athlete who is well aware of his effect not only on a basketball court, but in board meetings as well. Owners and GM’s treat players like 4th graders at lunch, “half my ham sandwich for your Doritos, deal?”, “Deal.”

The professional sports system has a broken mindset. The players win the games, they’re the talent, they’re the ticket sales, they’re the cash cows. Billionaire-X who bought the team sees no return on his investment if his team is awful. Players are now realizing this and LeBron is the biggest example to date.

LeBron’s biggest downfall was being drafted by his hometown team. He leaves and suddenly his loyalty is questioned. LeBron did all of the grunt work for a terrible basketball team and took them all to places they’ve never been before and more than likely will never see again. Removing LeBron from the Cavs makes them a lottery contender. He gave them 7 of his prime years. Yet Dan Gilbert decided to sit back, abuse the machine, spend no money on repairs, and throw a tantrum when it blew up in his face. If you’ve ever worked retail, you’ve worked for that guy. Never comes out of his office, leaves before 3pm, schedules everyone 10hr days, and takes 13 smoke breaks before noon. You wouldn’t stay, why should LeBron?

Here’s my favorite argument: “Well all the great ones did it alone!” Really? Did they? Each name you bring up as a ‘great’ had no less than one other Hall of Fame caliber player beside them. Not 2-time All-Star, Hall of Fame. Not Comeback Player of the Year, Hall of Fame. Not 2nd team All-NBA, Hall of Fame. Jordan is the closest example we have of ‘doing it alone’ and his sidekick just got inducted into the Hall of Fame and is getting a statue outside of the United Center this season. I’m a firm believer that Jordan still wins without Pippen but Pippen wins nothing without Jordan. That being said, they clearly were far more effective together and that’s no knock on either of them.

Dwyane Wade is a tremendous player, but he’s never gotten a team closer than the 2nd round by himself. Add Shaq, championship. Take Shaq away, barely a playoff team. LeBron has taken less than average and severely mismatched teams deep into the playoffs and once to the NBA Finals. Wade may have been in Miami first but make no mistake, this will be LeBron’s team. He’s not going to be a sidekick, Wade and Bosh know this. They’ll both play large roles but LeBron is the key. With just Wade and Bosh I believe the Heat still lose in the playoffs. Best scenario: they make it to the Eastern Conference Championship where they’re beaten by LeBron and the Bulls.

So when you can no longer argue about the decision itself the next common argument is always “Well, it’s the WAY it was done.”

Okay, fine. Honestly, it’s the most legitimate argument in this entire saga but even if you disagree is it damning enough to hate? When arguing against it however, do not forget to put yourself in his shoes. This is a kid fresh out of high school, skipped college, straight to the NBA, drafted 1st round 1st pick. Translation: he’s never had the opportunity to make a career decision, ever. He’s 25 years old! Most of us by 25 have at least made a decision between military or college, if college, what college, what to major in, what to minor in, if not college then what, if military, what branch, if not then what career path…..he never had any of this. I do not blame him for viewing this decision big enough to warrant a show. Especially when he had been asked about it in every interview he’s done since 2007. Especially when he was asked multiple times to agree to this show by Jim Gray (and if there’s anything we’ve learned, what Jim Gray wants Jim Gray gets….or you’re going down). Let’s not forget the proceeds went to charity. That’s not a footnote, in the world of arrogant asshole athletes that’s a story worth 1,000 words itself. Not to mention, if you watched, you can’t argue there was no need for it. Clearly, you were interested.

Now that all of the negativity has been dealt with, can we discuss the most positive thing about this story that absolutely nobody has brought up as anything more than an ‘oh by the way’? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are all taking $15-20 million less to play on this team. Again, in the world of arrogant asshole athletes why is this not a bigger story? For those of us that make significantly less than a million dollars when we hear figures like that we tend to blow them off because we don’t have the perspective to differentiate. We think ‘Oh what’s a couple million when guys get fined $100, 000 and pay it Randy Moss style, ‘straight cash homie’. Think about this in terms of percentages; $15-20 million dollars less on a maximum NBA contract is about a 20% pay cut over the length of the contract (6yrs). Would you take that much of a pay cut for 1 year, let alone 6? In my eyes, this is tremendously unselfish. This has never been done in any sport. By the way, not many people are crucifying Revis or Vincent Jackson for holding out for more money. So why is a story about superstar athletes taking a 20% pay cut to better the team and their overall position in their careers not being reported?

We teach the love of the game to children until they get good enough to determine whether they can actually make money doing it or not. If they can then ‘the love’ takes a backseat. I’ll never blame a professional athlete for signing on the dotted line when offered a huge lump of money. In this instance we have the exact opposite. We should be applauding these 3 talents worthy of maximum money deciding to put ‘the love’ ahead of that money.

Do not underestimate the Kobe factor either. Kobe is a polarizing figure; well respected in the league but you also get the sense that nobody truly likes him. LeBron, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony have all hung out with each other at some point this offseason. I have absolutely no proof of this but I feel pretty good about making this leap: they’re all sick and tired of seeing Kobe Bryant win rings. Having every superstar player spread out amongst the NBA isn’t going to stop him. The Lakers are so stacked they’ll win every time until Kobe’s knee, ankle, and/or shoulder falls out on the court. This could just be coincidence (wink *clears throat* wink) but no more than 5 minutes after the Lakers won Game 7 Dwyane Wade tweeted something to the effect of “I suddenly feel sick to my stomach, I’m going to bed”. Maybe I’m reading way too much into that but I tend to believe most aren’t reading into it enough. They’ve watched Kobe dominate half of their prime years. Trade deadlines come and go with Owners and GM’s posturing but never taking any real chances or risks to better their product. The Lakers aren’t ashamed to bring in superstar after superstar to surround Kobe with talent and protection. A 6-24 Game 7 in an NBA Finals for the best player on the court and your team still wins? That’s protection no other team had, until now.

I’m beyond excited for the start of the NBA season. I’m just as curious as anyone to know how the realignment in the East is going to flesh out. We’re headed for a tremendous season thanks to players that acted as their own GM’s and put themselves in better positions for their careers. That’s ultimately what we all want, the ability to control our own destiny and reap the greatest reward in doing so. So next time you get the urge to burn a 23 Cavs jersey be sure to use your favorite dress shirt and tie as kindling.

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