This is not an April Fools Joke. I know you think it is, but it’s not…..not exactly, anyway. It’s more of an ironic play on words that coincidentally falls on April 1. In case you haven’t heard, LeBron James and Nike have agreed on a long term contract extension. Terms of the deal have not been announced, but reports indicate it is another 7 year deal.
For Cavalier fans, this deal is a rare win in the game of reading LeBron’s words and actions for clues about his future. It’s a win because the deal does not contain a location clause which would escalate the value of the deal if LeBron signed with a team in a major market such as New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. LeBron’s first deal with Nike, signed before he was even drafted, contained a clause which would have paid him more money had he signed a deal with a major market team in 2007 when he first could have become a restricted free agent.
Just because this new deal doesn’t contain such a clause doesn’t mean he’s not leaving, but it shows that LeBron is sincere when he says the only thing he cares about is winning. For so long LeBron has been unable to escape the unfortunate words when he claimed he wanted to be a global icon and sports’ first billionaire athlete. While that may be true, it was misconstrued by most as LeBron saying that was what was most important to him, and thus many individuals felt that LeBron to New York was a sure thing.
Instead, the truth of the matter is that while that one time LeBron let it appear that was his primary focus, he spent the rest of his time pointing out that his primary focus is winning, and that the icon and billionaire stuff will fall into place and take care of itself as long as he is winning Championships.
This is where free agency comes into play. I’ve long ago given up on predicting what LeBron will do this summer. It is incredibly naive for anyone to say he’s definitely staying and there’s no way he goes elsewhere. It’s also extremely presumptuous to claim that LeBron is definitely going to leave. This is an issue firmly planted in the land of gray. We try to find clues in every little thing he says and does, but what can the clues possible lead to if we accept the basic premise that even LeBron himself has not made up his mind yet on what he is going to do.
Instead, the best I can do is point out that the Cavaliers organization has done everything they possibly could to get LeBron to stay. This is a first rate organization with ownership and leadership that cares deeply about LeBron and his family/friends and has been firmly behind LeBron in everything he has said and done in his career from day one. They have surrounded him with the talent needed to compete for titles. They have helped to foster his popularity with fans into one of the most intense home crowd advantages in the NBA. They have worked tirelessly on building the Cavalier brand on a global scale so as not to allow the small market size of Cleveland hinder LeBron’s ability to be said global icon.
Brian Windhorst pointed out in his article on this subject that market size hasn’t driven the success of LeBron as a pitchman, but instead it’s been the winning that matters most:
Instead, James will continue to focus on winning, which is helping shoe sales. The current version of James’ signature shoe, the Zoom LeBron VI, has been the best-selling version of the shoe. Two Final Four teams, Butler and Michigan State, will be wearing LeBron styles at the Final Four.
The increase in popularity can be attributed to James winning the Most Valuable Player Award and the Cavs’ success over the last two seasons. It is giving momentum for Nike to roll out more James products and likely with a new logo after he completes his number change next season.
It’s been written here before, but I’ll say it again….LeBron James has lucrative endorsement deals with Nike, Coke (Sprite, PowerAde, and Vitamin Water), McDonalds, State Farm Insurance, Cub Cadet, and Upper Deck. He has been on the cover of a diverse portfolio of magazines, from Forbes to Time to Slam to Vogue to Sports Illustrated to GQ to ESPN to Men’s Health to Parade to The Sporting News. He has hosted the ESPYs. He’s hosted Saturday Night Live. He’s about to be in a major feature film. He attended the Allen & Company Media Industry Conference as a guest of Dan Gilbert’s. All of this has been accomplished while in the city of Cleveland. What more can LeBron possibly ask of this city and organization? The answer is: nothing.
Which takes us back to my point. If LeBron James leaves this summer, it will be through no fault of this organization. He will have no place in Cleveland to point the finger of blame should he choose to leave. If he leaves, it’s on him. It will be because he does not want to be in Cleveland. Plain and simple. Cleveland gives him a great chance to win, has shown they will never stop working to surround him with talent, he has the support and adulation of the fans, and he means more to the people in this great state than he could ever mean to fans anywhere else. Not to mention he can earn the most on court money in Cleveland as well.
I’m not alone in this line of thinking. Even his good friend Carmelo Anthony sees the wisdom in LeBron staying in Cleveland. Last week the Denver Post’s Benjamin Hochman asked ‘Melo for his thoughts on LeBron’s future:
Me: “If you’re LeBron, do you go to New York for the money and the fame?”
Melo: “He’s already got that. He’s already got the money and the fame. I think the only thing weighing in right now is the championship.”
Me: “You know him better than a lot of people (and share the same agent and shoe company) — is the championship the deciding factor for him?”
Melo: “If he feels that he can win a championship in Cleveland, then he will stay. The team in Cleveland is that much better than the team in New York.”
Me: “Has he already made a decision?”
Melo: “No. Not at all, not at all, not even close.”
Bringing this back full circle to his deal with Nike, LeBron has shown his loyalty to the individuals there, and LeBron and his people talked about this relationship. Again, from the Windhorst article, he quotes:
“We have a great relationship with Nike and LeBron’s relationship with (Nike Senior Director of Basketball) Lynn Merritt is irreplaceable,” said Maverick Carter, the CEO of James’ Cleveland-based LRMR Marketing and Branding, which put the Nike deal together.
As we head for this postseason where nerves will likely be at an all time high and speculation on LeBron’s future will be a topic of daily discussion by talking heads and pundits alike, the best we can do as Cavs fans is remember LeBron’s loyalty, fall back on the fact that LeBron has everything he needs in Cleveland, and hope that our loyalty and trust is paid off in the end. The future is out of our control, but it’s never as bleak as some would lead us to believe.
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images)