Monday, May 10, 2010

Lebron's Welcome Mat Blueprint

New York Magazine's latest issue featured a cover story based on Lebron's opportunities if he were to join the New York Knicks. The cover featured a great picture of him wearing that Knicks' road blue #6.

1. If You Want to Make That First Billion Before You Turn 30, This Is the Place to Do It

Illustration by Shutterstock

We know you’re a brand-savvy guy. We read where you said you wanted to be a billionaire. You don’t need more business advice, and if you did, you’d probably get it at one of your lunch dates with your friend Warren Buffett. But we just want to make sure one thing is clear: You can make more money playing in New York by far than you can in Cleveland.

People in Ohio will try to tell you otherwise. In today’s global media landscape, they will say, a superstar like you can build a following from anywhere. We heard it from David Falk. “Players at that level,” he said, “are going to make money anywhere. We live in a digital age.” It’s a fair point. The NBA’s marketing department will throw its weight behind superstar players wherever they are (this was the essential lesson of the Jordan era). And the people who make decisions about endorsement deals generally follow their lead. You know this as well as anyone, seeing as Nike signed you to a seven-year, $100 million deal before the company knew where you would play. And the Cleveland market hasn’t exactly scared away Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, State Farm, and Upper Deck.

But that’s looking at everything the wrong way. The question is not whether you can get national, even global, exposure playing in Cleveland. The question is whether you can get more in New York. And the answer is a resounding yes, especially if you win. Listen to Vince Gennaro. He did marketing for Pepsi for years and is now a sports-revenue consultant. The prospect of you as “the centerpiece of the resuscitation of one of the marquee franchises in sport” is dizzying, he says. According to him, if you won a title with the Knicks, “the income opportunities would be boundless. It would be staggering.” Nike sales, he says, would “spike enormously.” You’ve done some slick commercials in your day. We especially enjoyed the Nike “Chalk” spot featuring Lil Wayne and some clever variations on your pregame talcum-powder hand-drying ritual. But check out the Nike ad, up above, that digo, a New York creative shop, already made for you. That work for you?

Steve Stoute, the marketing guru behind Translation LLC who lined up your recent deal with McDonald’s, is understandably bullish on your ability to make money from anywhere, but even he acknowledges that “access to money is driven by proximity.” He believes the city’s private-equity crowd would open their wallets for just about anything with your name on it. And we’re not just talking endorsement deals. Name a venture you might like to try—restaurants, nightclubs, a fashion label—and you’ll find the best in the business waiting with open arms. Sonny Vaccaro, the man who persuaded Nike to sign Michael Jordan, told us that if he had “a new shoe company and $200 million to spend on an athlete,” he would give it all to you as a Knick, that he’d “be crazy not to.” Vaccaro, admittedly, is prone to hyperbole (and Nike might have something to say about that deal), but one levelheaded NBA agent we spoke to estimated you’d take in an extra $20 million a year playing here. Gennaro said it best: “You can’t beat the combination of great player and great market.”

2. Of Course, Money Isn’t Everything

Six or seven NBA titles would be nice, too.

We left a big if in that last section. If you win. You would be forgiven for pausing on those three little words. Winning an NBA title (check that: titles), we know, is everything to you. Falk spelled it out directly: “Gloss over the money, over whether LeBron could sell more shoes in New York, get more TV roles in L.A., or a better tan in Miami. He’s going to go where he can win.” Fellow agent Bill Duffy says that “superstar players become validated when they win a championship.” Christopher Gebhardt, the researcher from your 2006 brand summit in Akron, gave us his tagline, “the accessible hero becomes the people’s champ.” And Darren Rovell, CNBC’s sports-business reporter, just plain threw down: “Kobe Bryant is bigger than LeBron in China because they value championships.”

Right now you’re in a playoff battle with Boston, and the Cavaliers have some pretty good talent in Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams. But we’re here to tell you that while you may win one in Cleveland, you could win four or five, maybe six or seven in New York. Don’t look at the assembled has-beens and also-rans currently filling Knicks jerseys. They are placeholders. These Knicks are a blank canvas, ready to be filled in however you wish.

You’re a Yankees fan, so you’ve seen how it works when they want an elite player. If the Knicks were the Yankees, and the NBA were Major League Baseball, the Knicks would just write a check, let you fill out the amount, and tell everyone at the press conference how you came to New York for the schools. “If there were an open market,” Gennaro told us, “I can’t even imagine what LeBron would get.” Alas, the NBA has a salary cap, so the Knicks can only pay you so much. But the good news is that Donnie Walsh, the guy the Knicks brought in to replace Isiah Thomas, is almost as good at clearing salary-cap space as Isiah was at blowing it. Falk says bringing in Walsh was “the most important step” toward getting you. Walsh made room to offer you the maximum allowed: roughly $96.1 million over five years, with $16.6 million of that coming next year. (If you don’t want to be tied down that long, just say so! The Knicks will accommodate!) It wasn’t easy. When he arrived in April 2008, there were four players with fat contracts standing in your way: Jared Jeffries, Jamal Crawford, Zach Randolph, and Eddy Curry. Walsh got rid of the first three. Curry is still here, but his contract expires next year, which, in the bizarro world of NBA economics, makes him a valuable trade chip. In the meantime, we know the two of you are friendly; perhaps you can finally get some use out of his seven-foot, 300-pound frame.

Still, Walsh had to give up a lot to get it done, including first-round picks after the next two seasons. Right now, there are only four players locked in for next year: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas, and Curry. No, that is not a group that screams dynasty-in-the-making, but that’s not the point. The point is that there is plenty of room to rebuild the team in your image. Even better, the Knicks have cleared so much cap space that they will in all likelihood have room to offer two max deals, one for you and one for one of the other stars in this deep free-agent class. No other team can say that. Yes, Miami already has Dwyane Wade and could add you with him, but with the Knicks, you could simply call your favorite available player and see if he’s up for joining you. And who wouldn’t want to get paid maximum money to play with you—the greatest player in the world—here in the greatest city in the world? As it happens, we have a particular guy in mind, a superstar in his own right, the Scottie Pippen to your Jordan …

3. Allow Us to Introduce You to Chris Bosh

Before the 2009 All-Star Game, you told a reporter, “I would definitely love to play with Chris Bosh. Being around him last summer [in the Olympics], I got to see how smart he is. His basketball IQ is unbelievable.” We completely agree with your assessment, and, as you two may have discussed, Bosh also happens to be a free agent this summer. Are you thinking what we’re thinking?

The Toronto Raptors’ big man is perfect for you. David Thorpe, the private coach to some of the NBA’s best players and one of the game’s greatest minds, told us the first thing you would need to succeed here is a lithe, shot-blocking, rebounding big man who can make the outlet pass and push the offense into motion. Bosh is nearly seven feet tall, runs like a deer, and is one of the five best rebounders in the game. Thorpe says the combination of you two would be devastating—two fast, powerful players in their primes. Realistically, New York is the one place where you two can play together without leaving money on the table. You’ve never played with someone of Bosh’s caliber before, and you probably won’t get another chance.

4. We’ve Already Picked Out a Pretty Sweet Place for You to Crash

The Frick estate.

You’ve built yourself a nice spread out there in Summit County, Ohio: six bedrooms, 33,000 square feet, your own barbershop, aquarium, recording studio, and bowling alley. Your walk-in closet has two flat-screen TVs, a fireplace, and a pole to reach the suits on the upper rack (sounds like a New Yorker to us). We’re not saying you need to give up the homestead. Keep it as a summer place. But Dennis McCormack of Sotheby’s Prominent Properties has gone ahead and picked out a pad for you to live in during the basketball season. It’s the centerpiece of the former Frick Estate (above). It’s across the Hudson, in Alpine, New Jersey, where Sean “Diddy” Combs and the Yankees’ CC Sabathia live. Currently on the market for $57 million, the former home of Henry Clay Frick II is on the only single-family gated street in northern New Jersey. It’s set on 27 acres, has six bedrooms, nine baths, a guest house, an aviary, and a pond, and borders the Alpine Country Club golf course.

Apartment 63A in the Time Warner Center.

And for nights when you feel like staying in the city, here’s a nice little pied-à-terre.

Darren Sukenik of Prudential Douglas Elliman, who has helped a number of “major Yankees” find places in the city, has found you apartment 63A of the Time Warner Center, at 25 Columbus Circle. “No other apartment in Manhattan has a view like this,” says Sukenik. “Sixty-third floor, full city, full park, full river.” The three-bedroom, 3.5-bath unit is on the market for $15 million. For what it’s worth, Tom Brady used to live in the building.

5. Right, We Almost Forgot

The man who can bring you all of this is Mike D’Antoni.

Illustration by Remie Geoffroi

Listen, we know you like Cleveland coach Mike Brown. He’s a smart man and particularly skilled at coaching defense. You’ve done some fine things together. You might even win a title this year. Here’s the problem. Brown’s approach to coaching the most unique, breakthrough NBA talent in decades has basically been, I will match up my five against your five, and because one of my five is LeBron James, I will beat you. On the whole, this has been effective, but, LeBron, watching you dribble around while everyone on your team waits for you to do something is excruciating to watch. We can’t imagine it’s that much fun for you, either.

Here in New York, we have Mike D’Antoni, the most innovative offensive mind of his generation. Remember Jack McCallum’s book Seven Seconds or Less? The title is a simplified version of D’Antoni’s coaching philosophy: Shoot early and shoot often. D’Antoni was the guy behind those high-octane Phoenix Suns teams from your first five years in the league, the ones that routinely averaged more than 110 points per game (a dozen more than the Cavs have been getting). Rather than carefully build their way into a high-percentage shot, D’Antoni’s teams routinely attempt the spectacular. Or at least, that’s what they do when he has the talent. And D’Antoni’s never coached a talent like you. Sure, he had that whirling dervish Steve Nash and the LeBron-lite known as Amar’e Stoudemire. But you are a whole different beast. You at “the helm of a Mike D’Antoni offense,” Thorpe says, “could be the most beautiful basketball ever played.” Just discussing the idea made Thorpe practically giddy: “LeBron allows a coach like D’Antoni to come up with matchups that have literally never been created before. The best finisher of all time, on an offense that thrives in the transition? Imagine!”

We don’t exactly have a Nash-level point guard at the moment, but that’s okay, because you could do it. This wouldn’t be the way the Cavs play you at the point, just dribbling, dribbling, waiting. This would be you in the role of Nash (plus five inches and 75 pounds). Thorpe again: “LeBron’s passing angles on the run would be like no one else’s. He sees the floor like no one else sees it. You could just run everything through him, but on the go.” Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Just check out the play below.

Plus, on a team that plays at a faster pace, you’ll have more possessions, and therefore more opportunities to score, rebound, and assist. Your stats this year are jaw-dropping, but they pale in comparison to what you would do in a D’Antoni offense. Your Cleveland team has a Pace Factor (the number of possessions a team has per game) of 93.5. That’s 25th in the NBA. The Suns’ Pace Factor during the 2007–8 season was 112.9. That’s 19 extra possessions a game, or 1,600 a season. If you play with D’Antoni, you could assault almost every NBA career record and love every second of it.

1. Chris Bosh rebounds and outlets to you on the wing (dashed purple line), then trails the play (solid purple line), making a “rim run” to clean up missed shots or finish an alley-oop.

2. You dribble toward the top of the key (curvy green line). Since no one player can stop you, the other defenders will be forced to choose between leaving their men to step in your way (not recommended) or staying put.

3. If the defender checking Danilo Gallinari comes to you, dish to Gallinari in the corner (dashed green line). He made the second most threes in the NBA this past year.

4. Or, if one of the defenders guarding the other two Knicks switches to you, hit the open man spotting up or filling the lane on the opposite side of the court (solid purple lines).

5. If the defense decides to stay put, you candrive past your man, head straight to the hoop, and unleash a ferocious dunk (wavy red line). But you knew that.

6. A Few People You May Have Heard of Are Big Fans

Here’s what they have to say about how to get you here.

John Leguizamo
“LeBron, come to New York! Have you ever been to Scores, LeBron? There’s no strip club like New York strip clubs. You can have whatever dancer you want. And endorsements up the ass! You’re a Yankees fan. You can hang out with the Yankees. We’ve got all the rappers—Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest. Al Pacino, De Niro, you can hang out with them on the weekends. You want to be on the cover of Vogue again, LeBron? It’s in New York! What do you got in Cleveland? A struggling economy? Fifteen percent unemployment? Is that where you want to be?”

Jean-Georges Vongerichten
“Free dinners as long as he wants. I’ll feed him whatever he likes—double chickens.”

Mark Sanchez
“Great food, great fans, the best place to play. Madison Square Garden has so much tradition, and he can only add to it. I heard he just changed his number to 6, same as mine. I mean, everybody has a hero, but he doesn’t have to do everything I do.”

Drew Nieporent
“Shall I show you my picture of LeBron? I was just courtside at the Cavaliers-Celtics game in Boston. It’s a great shot. [Paging through photos on his BlackBerry.] That’s the World Series. Let me get to view pictures. There it is. No, that’s Dr. Dre. He and LeBron were together later at the game. [Paging through.] I can show you the Who at Royal Albert Hall. [Paging through.] If I erased this picture, I’m going to shoot myself. There it is. [James has his hands in front of his face.] He was upset that I was taking his photograph. He thought I was a Celtics fan. Why would I tell him to come here? If you really want to be the best at what you do, you have to perform in New York.”

Tommy Hilfiger
“I’d give him free clothes.”

Ray Kelly
“We should use bribery or whatever we can to get him. He’s phenomenal.”

Spike Lee
“I got my own plan. I’m working on it.”

Martha Stewart
“Should LeBron James come to New York? Oh, definitely! Incentive? Money.”

“Start the LeBron James Fund, and get everybody in New York to pitch in a dollar.”

Well, not everybody...

Denzel Washington
“LeBron is a grown man and he is going to make his own decisions. I have nothing to say about that.”

7. We’re Afraid There’s Just No Polite Way to Say This, But Our Superfans Make Your Superfans Look Plain Sad

This is just an abbreviated photo gallery of celebrities who attended a game at the Garden this year. Keep in mind that this was during a season when the Knicks went 29-53. In Cleveland, you pretty much have one superfan—Usher. Do you think he’d still show up if the Cavs lost 50 games?


Céline Dion, Michael Imperioli, Chris Rock, Jay-Z, Brooke Shields, William Hurt, Mary J. Blige, John Mcenroe, Tracy Morgan, Shaun White, Kim Kardashian, Jessica Stam, Lou Reed, Woody Allen, Rosie Perez, Dustin Hoffman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rihanna, Howard Stern, Mark Wahlberg, Chloë Sevigny, Spike Lee, Hugh Jackman, Ethan Hawke.



8. Not That We’re All About Celebrities

It’s not all glitz and glamour in New York. We are also home to the most legendary court in all of street basketball, Rucker Park, where Earl Monroe, Dr. J, Allen Iverson, and Vince Carter, to name just a few, have plied their trade. We dropped by to ask the city’s hoop dreamers and fans what they had to say about you.

Asaf Breier
martial-arts teacher
“I’ve been known to do a little body-painting and face-painting. I’d have the fence and someone would have the D next to it. It’d be like soccer games in Europe, where people throw smoke bombs. Well, hopefully no smoke bombs, but closer to that.”

Elizabeth Martinez
on disability
“I’d get off my wheelchair for him to come here. I’d stand up and root for him.”

Brandon Johnson
“The market is much bigger, the fan support would be there, and it will add tons and tons of credibility to his legacy. But most of all, we need help. I’m going to keep it real— we need help.”

Lawanda Joyner
social worker
“Hey, LeBron, how are you? This is Lawanda. I was wondering if when you came to the Knicks, we could go out?”

9. Oh, And If You Ever Feel Like Going Out …

We know you and your friends are not immune to the pleasures of the nightlife. And, as you’ve no doubt experienced on your visits here, Cleveland can’t really hang with New York on this one. Noah Tepperberg, the impresario behind the clubs Avenue and Marquee, planned this postgame itinerary for you.

10 p.m.
Dinner at Tao on 58th Street. Seated at table No. 69, next to a large koi pond at the center of the restaurant, in the shadow of the sixteen-foot Buddha, you’d dine on lobster and Kobe (get it, as in Kobe Bryant?) sirloin.

A stop at Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club on 25th Street for a few puffs on a Zino Platinum cigar in the private “Jay’s Room,” where your McDonald’s High School All-American jersey hangs over the pool table, kitty-corner to Michael Jordan’s University of North Carolina college jersey.

1 a.m.
Avenue lounge on Tenth Avenue. Recline at the owner’s table, the corner banquette closest to the bar, and toast with bottles of Armand de Brignac “Ace of Spades” rosé delivered under sparklers lit by waitresses wearing sequined LeBron James jerseys. Your old D.J. pal Mick Boogie from Cleveland has already prepared a set list for you. It starts with Jay-Z’s “The City Is Mine.”

4 a.m.
Last stop at Artichoke Pizza on 14th Street. Skip the line while Francis and Sal fix you a special pie—one of the city’s best—and bask in the gratitude of the firemen and cops who gather there after-hours.

10. The Cavs Are Aging Fast, and Your Other Potential Employers All Have Warts

Sure, you could play it safe and stay in Cleveland, but look around you: That might actually be the risky choice. The team is only getting older. Antawn Jamison does a nice job running lanes, but do you want to be playing with him when he’s 35? You will be, if you stick around. Anderson Varejao is a quality hustle player, but the Cavs are tied to him for five more years. Is he better than whatever player the Knicks can get in a trade for Eddy Curry’s expiring contract next year? (Monta Ellis? Ben Gordon?) Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson are also onboard with the Cavs until 2013. Three years from now, this is the team you will have if you stay in Cleveland. In New York, you could be running with Chris Bosh, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Monta Ellis. If the Cavs finally get over the hump this year, tip your hat and get out of there. If they don’t, are you sure they ever will? Which brings us to your other options. The following four teams have been furiously clearing the salary-cap space to offer you a max deal, or at least come close. They will be whispering sweet nothings in your ear, but, trust us, you don’t want to wake up next to them. We checked in with Kevin Pelton at Basketball Prospectus, who has been studying your situation for months, for his analysis:

The Team: New Jersey Nets

Cap Space: $28 million

The Pitch: Moving to Brooklyn with new billionaire Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

Pros: A young stud in the middle in Brook Lopez, a certain top-four pick in the draft this June, a former All-Star in Devin Harris, and young players who can contribute cheaply, especially if the team lands either John Wall or Evan Turner in the draft.

Cons: Coming off one of the worst records of all time. Some of the pieces, especially Harris, won’t fit well with James.

The Team: Miami Heat

Cap Space: $24.9 million

The Pitch: No state income tax; sunshine and beachfront.

Pros: James and Dwyane Wade would be an impossible duo to defend, and the Heat have some solid other pieces, like Michael Beasley.

Con: James would be ceding a lot of the spotlight to Wade, already an established star in South Beach.

The Team: Chicago Bulls

Cap Space: $20.5 million

The Pitch: The players to win right now.

Pros: In Derrick Rose, the Bulls have a terrific building block, and youngsters Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are solid pieces up front.

Cons: Chicago is a good market, but it’s still not New York or L.A. Rose and James are not an ideal partnership because both are most comfortable with the ball in their hands. Would be stepping into the shadow of Michael Jordan.

The Team: Los Angeles Clippers

Cap Space: $18.3 million

The Pitch: A strong young core in a big market.

Pros: Better returning players than any competing team, with a glaring hole at small forward.

Cons: Those players all want the ball in their hands. These are the Clippers, the city’s second fiddle. And owner Donald Sterling has a poor reputation among NBA players. (Former G.M. Elgin Baylor once claimed Sterling tried to run the team with a “southern-plantation-type structure.”)

11. We’re Remaking the World’s Most Famous Arena Just in Time for Your Arrival

The newly refurbished Madison Square Garden, to be unveiled starting in 2011, will essentially be brand-new. The lobby, locker rooms, sight lines, and, of course, corporate boxes (basically everything but the famed ceiling and exterior) will be revamped. How does this sound? The House LeBron Built.

12. Winning a Championship in New York Is Like Nothing Else

Just ask these guys.

Derek Jeter
Yankees, 1996, 1998–2000, 2009
“The parade is just crazy. That many people?”

Keith Hernandez
Mets, 1986
“I loved winning in St. Louis, but winning here was special because the Mets were down for so long. After so many years of bad play, it really captured the town. I couldn’t buy anything for weeks. One night at Canastel’s, dinner for a party of ten, they sent over Cristal for everybody. Everyone remembers me as a Met. Even in St. Louis.”

John McEnroe
U.S. Open champion, 1979–81, 1984
“It’s the greatest city in the world. Madison Square Garden is the mecca of basketball. LeBron could save the sport. He could save the sport of basketball for about 10 million New Yorkers.”

13. If You Win Here, We’ll Name a Street After You

We’ve already got Babe Ruth Plaza, Joe DiMaggio Highway, Lou Gehrig Plaza, Joe Louis Plaza … you get the picture. For you, we’re thinking big:

14. If You Win Here, We'll Name a Sandwich After You

Over the years, the world-famous Carnegie Deli has paid culinary homage to everyone from Woody Allen to Venus Williams. Sandy Levine, the general manager (or “the guy who married the boss’s daughter,” as he likes to say), already has an idea for your signature creation. The LeBron MVP would be pastrami, corned beef, brisket, and turkey (“the best of the Carnegie Deli and the biggest sellers”) with American cheese (“instead of Swiss, because he’s an American-born player”), plus lettuce, tomato, and mustard on rye. What the heck, Levine says. He’ll go ahead and make the $19.95 beast available now. Not that we’re assuming anything.

The Story of LeBron James (2018)

What would a documentary looking back at LeBron James's career in New York look like?

If LeBron James comes here, it's not the end of his story: It's only the beginning. Glancing backward from the year 2018, we wondered: What would a documentary about LeBron's time in New York look like? We asked filmmaker Jonathan Hock, director of The Lost Son of Havana and ESPN's upcoming "30 for 30" entry The Best That Never Was, to use his imagination to storyboard LeBron's future New York retrospective.

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