If LeBron really wants to become an iconic figure with endorsements galore, and a championship ring for each finger, he’ll sign for the league minimum, writes SI’s Chris Ballard:
If I were advising LeBron—and clearly I’m not, or I’d be typing this on a gold-plated keyboard from a yacht in the Antilles—here’s what I’d tell him: Forget pursuing a maximum deal next summer, and announce that you’ll sign for the league minimum, the NBA’s equivalent of a buck. It sounds crazy, but it actually makes business sense.
Consider: At 24, after six seasons as a pro, James has made more than $90 million in salary. Throw in the $28 mil a year he makes in endorsements and other goodies, and he’s already grossed more than a quarter of a billion. So you tell me what’s more valuable to LeBron James Inc. in the long run—three years of max salary (around $50 million) or the cachet that comes from a) winning title after title as the linchpin of a superteam; b) being seen as the first star athlete to say, “It’s not about the money,” then back that up; and c) generating worldwide media buzz, if not the next best seller by Michael Lewis? “I think it’s very smart,” says one Western Conference general manager. “LeBron’s personal brand is worth way, way more than any salary he could draw from a team. It’s myopic to think otherwise.” Then the G.M. laughs. “I’m just hoping he doesn’t agree and do it.”
Some of that rings hollow, but you can’t really argue with this part of Ballard’s article:
Sure, James’s signing for the minimum would piss off the union (never settle for less!), not to mention David Stern (by undermining his beloved salary-cap system). But hey, other stars can accept minimum deals too. It’s just that they never do—at least not until they’re in their late 30s and desperate, like Karl Malone. And for anyone who argues that James’s legacy would be tainted because he played on a stacked team, I ask you, Whose legacy was “tainted” more: Magic Johnson’s for winning with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy or Larry Bird’s for winning with Kevin McHale and Robert Parish?