Monday, January 19, 2009

LeBron James Does Not Need New York, New York Needs LeBron James

"Families are always rising and falling in America. But, I believe, we ought to examine more closely the how and why of it, which in the end revolves around life and how you live it."—Nathaniel Hawthorne

In a way, it's a shame that Leonardo DiCaprio got his lips around Hawthorne's words (or most of them) in "The Departed." Now the line sounds pop-y and trite instead of astute and profound. In truth, the latter two adjectives describe them much more accurately than the former.

Oh well.

On the other hand, it's a good bet LeBron James has heard them now. If not for Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winner, maybe King James would never've know them—I certainly wouldn't have and I spent four years in college.

Of course, hearing them and heeding them are two different things.

And let's hope LeBron heeds them because that would mean re-upping with the Cleveland Caveliers.

Fox Sports' Randy Hill recently wrote an article about how good the Chosen One already is and how much room there still is for improvement. It's a fantastic piece and terrifying if you currently play in the National Basketball Association (or have aspirations of doing so in the near future). My favorite part is where the author compares being defended by the 24-year old phenom to being defended by a "mountain lion with tattoos." That's awesome—and appropriate.

Have you SEEN LeBron James recently? Dear God, those shoulders are closing in on Karl Malone territory.

But, at the end, one NBA scout articulates what seems to be on everyone's mind. That is, imagine King James upgrading empires, trading Cleveland for America's Emerald City—New York. Imagine his numbers in the Knickerbockers' new, high-flying system under Mike D'Antoni. Imagine the ad-revenue and marketability. Imagine the battles with the Boston Celtics.

Imagine the untold riches for all involved.

Mr. Hill and the scout are hardly the only perpetrators floating this idea.

To all these dreamers, I have this to say: imagine if he stays in Cleveland.

The thing is, Hawthorne's concept applies to everything in America—individuals, groups, towns, cities, States, etc.—not just families. There was a time when Washington D.C. didn't exist. When Philadelphia was our Nation's capital. There was a time when Boston was the center of commerce and culture while New York City was considered merely dirty and over-crowded. Chicago was once just a meat-packing center. San Francisco was just a dusty port until it wasn't.

Los Angeles wasn't even anything. Only desert.

Obviously, one man cannot turn Cleveland into the Big Apple. But look what Michael Jordan did for the city of Chicago and the Windy City was nowhere near His Airness' place of birth. If LeBron stays in Cleveland and becomes what we all expect him to become, he will do what Air Jordan did for Chicago. And then some.

LeBron James will be a god the likes of which we have never seen an athlete become.

If he goes to New York and realizes his potential, he will be just another in a long list of superheroes from Gotham. James would join a tremendous group of legends, a luminous bunch that includes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Walt Frazier, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Jerry Lucas, Bill Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed, Joe Namath, and Lawrence Taylor.

Those are some incredible names, but it makes for a crowded Mount Olympus.

In Cleveland, King James would reign supreme. And alone.

Otto Graham? Waaaaay too long ago. Jim Brown? Career was too short. Art Modell? OK, that was a cheap shot. Mark Price? Larry Nance? Brad Daugherty? Incidentally, can someone please explain how Brad Daugherty is doing NASCAR commentary and nobody talks about this. I just have this image in my mind of the race going on as this giant Daugherty straddles the track with mic in hand.

Anyway, the above are all fine players and had great careers. But you get the idea.

And, with all due respect to the Cleveland Indians, the best your franchise can offer are some Hall-of-Famers from a time before movies became talkies.

Sure, the dollars would be bigger in NYC since LeBron could essentially live on Madison Avenue. But how much bigger can the dollars really get. This is a kid—literally a teenager—who signed a $90 million contract the day he graduated from high school. By the time 2010 rolls around, he will have banked more than $70 million from his first two NBA contracts. James also has endorsement deals with Coke, Microsoft, State Farm, and Upper Deck to name a few.

More importantly, it looks like James understands the significance of this influx of riches. It seems he understands that, while millions are great, all that cash is the seed of something more enduring. In LeBron Incorporated, what we all may be witnessing is the next American transgenerational financial empire being built.

Think Getty, Carnegie, and Guggenheim.

It won't happen overnight, but all those millions (used wisely) will mutate into an obscenity of financial security. And they'll have a lot more company soon. All his contracts are set to expire sometime around 2010—not just his NBA one. Wealthier ones are on their way.

New endorsement opportunities will surface and that's true whether he stays in Cleveland or takes his show on the road.

In the modern world, where the Internet connects everything and information moves at digital speeds, there is no longer a pressing need to be physically located at the hub. Furthermore, LeBron James is becoming the kind of transcendental figure that creates a new hub wherever he is.

As Hawthorne points out, the rise and fall is not about where you live. It is about how.

LeBron James seems to have the 'how' already. So let's hope he realizes it isn't about the 'where.'

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