Ballard: LeBron Should Take Less Than Maximum Salary

» November 20, 2009 4:53 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

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?

10 Responses to “Ballard: LeBron Should Take Less Than Maximum Salary”

  1. Basketballogy Says:

    I started reading this rolling my eyes, but by the time I finished reading it, I agreed.

  2. Basketballogy Says:

    On the other hand, this presupposes James can trust management to spend the money right and not bring in overpaid stiffs.

  3. Tsunami Says:

    Why don’t all the best players in the league sign for the minimum then? They’ll all win championships and their “personal brand” will grow.

    There’s a reason this has never been done b4.

  4. Basketballogy Says:

    Tsu, what is the reason?

  5. Dave Says:

    LeBron already has huge endorsement money coming in. Hard to see him making another $20 million per season. More yes, that much more? Ehh? Looks questionable.

    Anyway, LeBron’s ego would never allow him to be paid so lowly. Not at this juncture in his career. Same for other great players.

  6. Basketballogy Says:

    I agree, Dave.

    Besides, LeBron has aspirations to be the world’s first sports billionaire.

    LeBron, who I admire, seems to be struggling with conflicting priorities.

    Does he really need to be leading the charge to retire #23? Or to embarrass professional football with his whimsical braggings of proficiency?

    A little focus might be good right now, LeBron.

    The Cavs had the best regular season record in the NBA last season, and almost a record setting home game record. Their league leading defense made them favorites for an NBA championship as well, yet they choked. You’d think he’d be focused like a laser this season and on a mission, you know?

  7. Brandon Hoffman Says:

    Interesting idea, isn’t it?

    Here are some facts and figures, courtesy of Ken Berger’s column on the different scenarios facing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in 2010.

  8. Tsunami Says:

    Basketballogy -
    a few things.

    1.) LeBron’s endorsement money could take a hit if his image takes a hit or if he’s hurt and not able to play. His salary cannot. Don’t underestimate the value of 20 million dollars per year, even if it seems like spitting in the ocean to what Lebron is making in endorsements.
    2.) Why doesn’t LeBron get the same treatment that other athletes get when it comes to what he says in the media? I really don’t get it. He gets hammered every time someone asks HIM a question and he answers. Gilbert Arenas and Dwight Howard spout egotistical stuff on their blogs all the time, and every one loves it. Why the double standard? You don’t think LeBron is focused? While everyone else talks about Nash, Kobe, and Melo for MVP right now, LeBron is off to the best reg season start of his career – and for those that love to hate his jump shot, I hope they’ve been paying attention.

    Kobe is shooting 47% on Jumpers with 48% being assisted. LeBron is shooting 47% on Jumpers with 12% assisted. Looks like someone’s been putting in time at the gym – he’s focused. They beat the tar out of Orlando, so they were on a “mission” that game. The rest of the season has been like a big science experiment, and the fact that they are 10-4 while missing Varejao, West, and Shaq for significant time already speaks volumes to their focus, especially given the fatigue that can set in from playing 4 games in 5 nights twice already.

    3.) Cut LeBron some slack.

    Btw, LeBron was on the court tonight doing the “OH-H…I-O” to “hang on sloopy”. I hope the folks in NY/NJ got to see it.

  9. jaja Says:

    sign with the lakers for the midlevel exception
    lebron, kobe, pau and bynum omgoodness!
    how about the midlevel with the celtics? rondo kg paul pierce lebron (and resign ray allen)

    course, it would never happen. theres the whole stuff of “hey i cant believe hes paid more than me! im way better than him he couldnt even hold my jockstrap!” in nba lockerrooms. not just lebron, but everyone really, according to the beat reporters.

    but yeah, sure in theory it makes sense. a big market like boston or La, winning multiple titles on a superteam; sure that could make him some money too.
    still, why bother with such gimmickry when lebron could just sign for the max and carry wahtever team he ends up with to a title anyway lol.

  10. john amaechi Says:

    Dear Hoffman,

    Legone James could play for free for all I care, as long as it isn’t in Cleveland ever again.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    Your pal,

    The National Media

    PS. go knicks and nets!

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