Forbes doesn’t name you the second most powerful celebrity in the world for just being a talented basketball player. LeBron James is a basketball mega star who now has his ex-owner in Cleveland as well as others throughout the league drooling. When news broke that the King was going to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat, the NBA world and possibly the entire world, for that matter, shook. Now, LeBron and his agent Rich Paul have the job of a lifetime to either find Mr. James a new home, or keep him in the same one.
The best strategy for players in NBA free agency is to understand the financial and competitive position of each interested team and use it to their advantage. LeBron and Rich Paul both recognize this. It’s no secret that if James leaves Miami it’s because he wants the max deal he passed up four years ago. It’s also no secret that every team in the league would offer him a max deal if he requested it (and were financially capable to do so). But that’s not quite enough for the King. He realizes he has the leverage to make teams beg and plead. He can threaten Miami by telling its President, Pat Riley, that he has max offers from other teams and that if he leaves, fellow All-Star Chris Bosh will follow. Returning to mediocrity is something Riley would like to avoid, which is why the point guard LeBron tweeted admiration for during the NCAA tournament, Boston native Shabazz Napier, was drafted by the Heat last month. But LeBron can also force other teams to put together the exact package he wants, because if they don’t, he’s content returning to Miami where he has nice weather, two other all-stars to play alongside and two championships under his belt. This makes it clear why Cleveland scrambled to take down that humiliating letter written by owner Dan Gilbert in which he bashed LeBron for leaving four years ago.
LeBron is pushing more than just his play on the court to each team interested and able to sign him. One of the best ways he is marketing himself to these teams is by pitching his legacy. Most teams are wondering why? Why leave Miami? And his answer, without hesitation, is four letters: G.O.A.T. Greatest Of All Time.
Ever since 2003 when he was the No. 1 overall pick, LeBron has made it clear he wants to be the best that ever played. If he stays in Miami he knows his legacy will be questioned by skeptics who say he could not win a title without the help of two other All-Stars. However, if he goes elsewhere and captures another title without Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh at his side, he has evidence to prove it was his ability that led to all those championships. For LeBron, this would represent mission accomplished.
There are reports of four or five serious contenders for James but this seems to be all smoke and mirrors. Do you really picture LeBron in a Suns uniform teamed up next to Carmelo Anthony? Or how about down in Dallas partying with Mark Cuban? None of these scenarios seem to work but all of the interested teams play to LeBron’s advantage. He can use them as leverage to get what he wants from the team of his choice.
LeBron is smarter than people think and understands the game of free agency better than most. He doesn’t need to market his talents. Everyone knows what they’re paying for. What he does need to do is market his impact outside the lines. What better story is there than for the kid who grew up in Akron, got drafted by his hometown Cavaliers, broke their hearts by leaving and stormed back to capture the city the title they’ve waited for much too long? If this is what LeBron wants, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert will beg and plead for LeBron to accept his apology. If LeBron wants to bring a title to the city of Phoenix because, hey why not, he’s LeBron James and can do those sorts of things, you can bet the Suns will go by leaps and bounds to give him all he wants. It’s not about marketing his talents, but about marketing his story and that’s why LeBron is the second most powerful celebrity in the world.
-Brandon Stoffers, Sports Corner Intern