How to foul Lebron

In Culture, Financial, Fresh, Personal, Popular Posts on June 1, 2011 at 10:17 AM

This was originally written on October 18th, 2010. I find it interesting to look back and see how appalled I was at Lebron’s plan for financial success. Now that the Heat are on the verge of winning their first championship, It’s worse than I had imagined. Here comes the lost decade of basketball.

Years ago, marginal NBA player Ricky Davis did the unthinkable. In the dying seconds of a meaningless game, with the stands half empty, and players on the bench waving towels at each other, Davis dribbled the ball towards his own basket where chucked it at the rim and scooped up his tenth rebound of the game. This manufactured rebound gave Davis a triple double, something the average NBA player struggles to achieve.

He promptly received a bar-fight push, otherwise known as the “hard” foul, from the opposing player closest to him. Davis withered away and none of his teammates came to his defense. In the NBA, you simply don’t force a milestone.

Lebron James has a milestone in his sights too. He’s gone on record as wanting to be the first sports Billionaire. In an unprecedented free agent summer, he had the rare opportunity to join forces with two other marquee players. The free agent coup in Miami is their first step to create a dynasty.

Of course, the Miami Heat has yet to win anything – but they will. They were instantly the odds-on favourites in Vegas to win the Championship this season. For at least 25 other teams like the Raptors, this is the lost decade.

Lebron James took an unimpressive 2007 Cleveland team to the NBA Finals. Dwayne Wade single-handedly led Miami to a championship in 2005. Chris Bosh might be the greatest Toronto Raptor in history, and he’s the third best player in Miami. All three are in their basketball prime. They have a legendary GM and former coach in Pat Riley.

The business plan is obvious because we’ve seen it before. It’s the Michael Jordan blueprint. Jordan was the first to carve a path through the corporate world: Be the greatest player on the planet. Win Championships. Let Nike, McDonald’s, Hanes, Gatorade, Wheaties do the rest. After that, the commercial world is your oyster.

This is the initial financial stepping stone that can vault Lebron from rich to wealthy. This is what will allow him to have pools of investment money that he can pass on to his friend Warren Buffet and say, “make it grow.” His entire plan rides on his ability to harness worldwide consumer demand for basketball, focusing it all on himself.

However, what happened in Chicago with Michael Jordan was completely organic. That Bulls team had its share of playoff licks before they won three Championships in a row. Jordan left basketball after the murder of his father to play for a minor league baseball club and perhaps to rehabilitate gambling habits. He surprised the NBA world by coming back mid-season to rejoin the bulls, where they picked up right where they had left off winning another three Championships.

Jordan’s NBA career became the business model for high Neilson Ratings and unprecedented endorsements, but this was commercialism riding the coattails of greatness. This was not a preordained basketball script to achieve a financial milestone.

NBA’s commissioner David Stern has no problem with Lebron’s plan. The league has grown to 3.1 Billion viewers worldwide and those ratings are particularly high when the same team makes the finals each year. Sure, competition makes things exciting, but nothing sells the NBA better than a dynasty. If Stern’s goal is to maximize TV viewership, historical trends indicate that dynasties are more attractive to the masses than having a balanced league.

So sure of his plan, Lebron, Wade and Bosh all pretended to entertain offers from other teams during free agency to heighten the dramatic climax, which culminated in a distasteful one hour special on ESPN titled, “The Decision.”

Lebron’s not worried about the bad press. He’s going to win and you will want a piece of it. The underlying assumption of the plan is that consumers of basketball are simple creatures. Everyone likes a winner. He expects the ACC to be full when Miami comes to town. He is counting on you to buy his jersey for your kids. New shoes every year. Action figures are on the way.

Lebron is under the impression that he can circumvent the rite of passage in becoming a great player by having a sound business plan. Everything about his plan tells him winning will trump the public’s ability to think critically. The plan assumes you won’t be able to help yourself.

It’s happening in slow motion. Lebron James needs your money to achieve a financial milestone that has eluded the greatest professional athletes. There’s a few seconds left in what is a meaningless game. Do you give him the hard foul?

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