It is 3:25 p.m. on the eighth day of a thus-far brutally hot July in NYC, and by all accounts among many of the sporting, national and celebrity press, LeBron James is the most famous man on planet earth. The pro basketball star’s brief but much ballyhooed free agency from the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers has pushed him into the Babe Ruth/Muhammad Ali realm of sport celebrity with hardly the resume or the personality to warrant such lofty comparisons.
Although the league’s reigning MVP, displaying an almost blithe afterthought to his glimpses of magnificence (this space once described him less athlete than artist, his performances more akin to Jimi Hendrix than Pistol Pete Maravich), James’ greatest gift may lie in simply being famous.
More than mere fame, James is the ultimate capitalist in a socialist construct.
The National Basketball Association a.k.a. the Magic/Bird/MJ Enterprise is one of three major American pro sports which utilize a salary cap, putting a limit on otherwise free market organizations to what they can pay their employees, who also uniquely double as the product. Worse still, the NBA enforces a “hard cap” that is practically impossible to circumvent, as say the more laissez fare National Football League cap, which is mostly a joke considering the pathetic lack of a player’s union and no guarantee of payment should a player get brutally injured and can no longer produce to the agreed-upon salary’s level of performance.
James pisses on this.
The King will not only get his, either through sweetened deals that involve part ownership or piggy-backed marketing deals and merchandizing sweeteners, but also, as has never before been seen in sport—the balls to broker deals with players from other teams, like-minded free agents, and hungry general managers, who have and will restructure their previous plans for one guy’s personal and professional happiness.
Atlas shrugs, and we cannot get enough.
Tell me, Britney, why did the chicken cross the road?
Because he wanted to be seen. The chicken is smart, he is cool. He is making a sound investment in himself — unless he is drunk, and then he has no future. But he wins either way. If the chicken is Flamboyant as he crosses the road, he will soon be rich and famous. If he is bitchy and neurotic, he will be eliminated. This is the Law of the Road.
—Hunter S. Thompson, Stadium Living In A New Age
This is why it is fitting James waltzes around in a NY Yankees cap, the most successful and powerful franchise in the only pro sport not completely communistic in formation, despite its mostly unconstitutional and laughably irrational anti-trust exemption and the dipshits who own the Red Sox whining like bitches every year. This has allowed baseball to be run as a drunken land baron haven for decades—denying civil rights and promoting every form of cheating known to the art of gaming. The Yankees, who are forced to pay an exceedingly un-American luxury tax as a consequence of running the most outlandishly fantastic competitive business model ever conceived by the most brilliant titans of industry, continue to buck every system and traverse every era with unprecedented domination.
But again, comparing LeBron James to the NY Yankees would be like putting your sixth grade science project up against the Atomic Bomb.
Having said that, not even the world’s greatest sports franchise with 27 titles, a billion dollar price tag, and a brand spanking new grandiose stadium can best the self-promotion machine whose very nickname, King James, only hints at the spectacular level of narcissism he has achieved in a remarkably short time. Some seven years removed from his High School senior prom in a nowhere town in Ohio, James has parlayed his extraordinary skills into something akin to the Age of Vaudeville meets the Kennedys.
For the past week, the nation’s, and in some cases, the world’s major newspapers, web sites, blogs and television programs from the Today Show to Nightline has either led, plugged or speculated about James’ every move, mood and machinations. And have there ever been machinations: clandestine entourage meetings, strangely devised leaks and stock spikes (Cablevision—owners of the NY Knicks—shares exploded on a vague rumor he might choose Madison Square Garden to ply his trade).
Five or six franchises, the chosen few that could hope to afford him monetarily or accommodate him with the best plan for winning, wheeled their entire operations—owners, front office personnel, marketing firms, public relations departments, former players and in some cases jock-sniffing celebrities—to Ohio to woo his services.
Throughout the proceedings major stars of every major sport commented, tweeted, and weighed in on his “Decision,” which coincidently became the name of a one-hour “live network special” on ESPN later that night. The James’ camp pitched the idea to the more than eager all-sports network to eat up 60 minutes of airtime smack in the middle of Major League Baseball season and days from the World Cup Finals on the whim of one man.
Money, Fame, Power: This is Horatio Alger on a John Galt jag worthy of Ulysses, jack.
No one denies James is a fine pro basketball player; perhaps casual fans would consider him the best in the game. Closer inspection by more astute followers of the sport would rank him considerably below former league MVP and five-time world champion, Kobe Bryant, after his pedestrian performance in key moments in an unceremonious ousting by the Boston Celtics in this year’s play-offs. At times it looked as if James had already begun his exit from the poor win-starved hamlet of Cleveland, as he walked around half stunned on the periphery as far less famous and powerful types chucked up an agonizing series of putrid shots to doom his season. At one point the cameras caught him on the bench during a time out with his eyes closed, as if in a Zen-like state of centering his chi on grander notions.
Those notions, it appears to all in the know, ended up in Miami to play in one of the worst sports towns in America for the Heat simply because his two favorite Olympic teammates, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, the latter of which is currently a contracted member of another team, held the league and their teams hostage to form an unholy bond. By the time the words “take my talents to South Beach” left his mouth, James’ jerseys and parts of downtown Cleveland burned, the west side of Manhattan began to formulate interesting ways to chant “pussy,” and the south side of Chicago sighed with relief they wouldn’t have to be pissed at him for not being Michael Jordan.
It was all part of a monumental plan hatched by the most famous capitalist in the world.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus, and Midnight For Cinderella.
Photo: Nike Advertisement