“In the next 15 or 20 years, I hope I’ll be the richest man in the world. That’s one of my goals. I want to be a billionaire. I want to get to a position where generation on generation don’t have to worry about nothing. I don’t want family members from my kids to my son’s kids to never have to worry. And I can’t do that now just playing basketball.” – LeBron James
Chris Broussard of ESPN.com reported that James would consider playing in Europe if he was offered a salary of “around $50 million a year.”
Asked to comment on Broussard’s story, a representative from the players’ association said, “he (James) wouldn’t be able to accomplish over there the things that he wants to do over here, which are to win NBA championships, MVP awards, etc.”
But is that what James really wants to accomplish?
I’m not so sure. James is the most talented player I’ve ever seen. And he’s improved over his five-year career. But I’m not convinced that his improvement has been the result of countless hours spent in the gym. I’m not convinced he wants to be the best player ever. Instead, I think most of his improvement has arisen from his physical maturation and the experience he’s gained from playing in 437 regular season and playoff games.
James earns an estimated $40,455,000 dollars per year in NBA salary and endorsements. After taxes, LeBron nets roughly half of that amount in the US. But $50 million earned in the Euroleague is largely tax-free.
Even more enticing to James has to be the revelation that Earl Boykins’ recently signed contract with Italy’s Virtus Bologna includes income from Bologna’s sponsorship and marketing arms. Due to the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, this sort of arrangement is off-limits in the NBA. But it’s exactly what LeBron James Inc. is looking for.
James is right, he won’t become a billionaire by playing basketball. So he and his management team have begun to look for more than endorsement dollars, they’re now interested in equity stakes in the companies LeBron lends his name to.
What if the owners of CSKA Moscow or Olympiacos — the two teams reported to have contacted James — offered him equity stakes in the teams and/or outside business ventures they accumulated their billions in, in addition to his playing salary?
An equity stake in a billion dollar business would pay dividends long after James called it quits on the hardwood. And it would inch James closer to his stated goal of becoming the richest man in the world.
If the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement allowed it, you can bet that James would negotiate an ownership percentage in the Cavs, or the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets, or the New York Knicks. Any discussions between James and Olympiacos or CSKA Moscow will begin with what the Euroleague can offer that the NBA cannot.
Upon reading Broussard’s report, I quickly dismissed the chance of James spurning the NBA in favor of the Euroleague. But the possibilities are endless.
If Euro teams start throwing out scenarios involving ownership percentages and stock options, LeBron James is as good as gone.