Thursday, June 07, 2012

Fate, Destiny and LeBron James

The Miami Heat won the NBA’s Eastern Conference last year, losing the NBA championship to the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat are two wins away from making it to the 2012 NBA Finals. The mountain the Heat will try and climb their opponents in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics are one win away from winning making it to the NBA Finals and the Celtics will host the Heat in game six of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night at the Boston Garden. The Heat are led by LeBron James – recognized with his third NBA most valuable player award last week. If the Heat lose Thursday night in Boston or Saturday night in Miami if the Heat force a game seven – James will be blamed for the team’s failure.

The Heat were pushed to the brink of elimination Tuesday night after the Celtics defeated the Heat 94-90 at Miami’s Amerian Airlines Arena. LeBron led the Heat in scoring with 30 points and collected 13 rebounds. 30 points, 13 rebounds – what exactly didn’t James deliver for the Heat? It’s not what LeBron James did or didn’t do, but the image – the persona James has. Three times in his first nine years in the NBA James has won the league’s MVP award – that aside LeBron James remains today what he has been for much of his career – loved and respected by many, detested by even more NBA fans.

James was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the number one overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. In his first professional game he recorded 25 points, setting an NBA record for most points scored by a prep-to-pro player in his debut outing. James grew up in Akron, Ohio – less than 60 miles from Cleveland.
James attended St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in Akron, where he starred as a two-sport athlete, playing basketball and football. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior, the Cavs believed they had drafted the best basketball player the Cleveland area had ever produced when they selected LeBron with the first overall pick. James was that and even more during his first seven years in the NBA, as a member of the Cavaliers.

LeBron has earned more than $100 million during his first nine NBA seasons. The first contract he signed with Nike in May 2003 – seven-years and $93 million. James signed an even bigger contract with Nike in March 2010.

"LeBron James is one of the world's best basketball players and a global sports icon that has transcended generations and cultures," Nike spokesman Kejuan Wilkins said. "Nike's relationship with LeBron has created innovative basketball products and captivating campaigns. We're proud to continue our partnership with him for years to come."

"Our relationship with Nike is more than a shoe deal," Maverick Carter, CEO of LRMR, told CNBC. "It's more like a joint venture — meaning we are working to build a business. His latest shoe, the LeBron VII designed by Jason Petrie is the best selling shoe we've ever had in LeBron's line."

James lived up to the hype he created when he was a high schooler getting ready to play in the NBA – he delivered on the court. He was seen as the successor to Michael Jordan, sports biggest brand name ever. However there has been and will only be one Michael Jordan.

“What happened with Nike and LeBron has proved that the days when a single athlete dominated like Jordan are completely over,” said Matt Powell, analyst for SportsOneSource, a sports market retail tracking firm. “It took Nike about six years to come up with LeBron shoes that were commercially viable and even then it paled in comparison to Jordan’s standard.”

“LeBron is one of the most important endorsers to Nike,” Jordan’s longtime agent David Falk said in the CNBC report. “And I think, from the beginning, it was unfair to compare him to Jordan. The model everyone was talking about just couldn’t be replicated.”

“I don’t think any basketball player is making $10 million a year in guaranteed money on a shoe deal ever again,” said Sonny Vaccaro, who has worked with all the shoe companies and convinced Nike to spend its entire basketball marketing budget on Jordan in 1984. “All my life, I said there would never be another Jordan and now we know. It wasn’t Kobe. And it wasn’t LeBron.”

James’ first NBA contract was the standard three year contract offered to all NBA rookies. As the first overall selection James was offered more than the other members of the 2003 NBA draft class. At the end of the 2005-06 season, James negotiated a three-year contract extension, with a player option for a fourth year. The contract was worth $60 million and began at the start of the 2007–08 season. Although it was for fewer years and less money than the maximum he could sign, it allowed him the option of seeking a new contract worth more money as an unrestricted free agent following the 2010 season. He had discussed this with fellow members of his 2003 draft class, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who also re-signed with their respective teams while allowing them to be unrestricted agents in 2010.

In the seven seasons LeBron James represented the Cleveland Cavaliers he won two NBA MVP awards, led the NBA in scoring one year and was selected as an All-Star six of the seven seasons. The Cavaliers made the playoffs in James’ last five seasons in Cleveland, losing in the playoffs and never coming close to winning an NBA championship.

James became a free-agent at 12:01 am ET on July 1, 2010. He filed papers to formally change his jersey number 23 to 6 for the season. James was courted by several teams, including the Knicks, Nets, Heat, Bulls, Clippers, and his hometown Cavaliers.

On July 8, 2010, James announced on a live ESPN special, The Decision, that he would be playing for the Miami Heat for the 2010–11 season and teaming with Miami's other All-Star free agent signees Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Decision was broadcasted from the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, Connecticut. The Decision came during the “dog days of summer”. Major League Baseball was nearing their All-Star break; both the NBA and the NHL had completed their playoffs. NFL training camps were three weeks ago. The biggest team sport player of his era announcing where he would be taking his talents attracted all of the attention and ratings numbers ESPN dreamed it would.

“In this fall...this is very tough...in this fall I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat. I feel like it's going to give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years, and not only just to win in the regular season or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row, I want to be able to win championships. And I feel like I can compete down there.” James announced.

LeBron joined Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami – the three leading members of the NBA’s 2010 free agent all playing for the same team. James had made the right basketball decision. He wanted to win an NBA championship and believed he had given Cleveland seven years of his career. He had, the Cavaliers hadn’t won and James wanted to play for a team he believed had a better chance to win.

LeBron James had made the right basketball decision – he had gone about announcing that decision in the wrong way. The Event was a public relations disaster – an unmitigated disaster. James appeared as an aloof pro-typical athlete who had kicked his hometown (Cleveland) under the bus. What LeBron should have done – signed with the Heat, allowed Miami to hold a press conference, instead The Event turned into an embarrassment for LeBron James – an athlete who had worked so hard on crafting his image during his seven years in the NBA.

Michael Jordan won his first NBA championship when he was 28. LeBron James is 27. Three MVP’s in his first nine years in the NBA, but that was for how James has played in the regular season. Jordan won five MVP’s with the Bulls, but six NBA Finals MVP awards – recognized for each of the six NBA titles Jordan led the Bulls too. LeBron James may win his first NBA title this year, he certainly will win several NBA championships but until he does LeBron James will not receive the respect he likely craves.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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