It has been widely discussed in the past week of the fallout from Lebron James’ decision to return to Cleveland. A game-changer. An economic steroid. A chance to prove you can go home again. Not only will this dynamic move change the NBA landscape as a whole, Lebron has the opportunity to influence change. True change. As Nelson Mandela said, “sport can create hope where once there was only despair”.
In 2010, when Lebron James “took his talents to South Beach”, the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland began a turn for the worse. According to Forbes, from 2010-12 the Cavaliers franchise value fell nearly $150M, attendance fell 15.7% from 2010-present, and the city of Cleveland (while never truly a burgeoning enterprise of economic prosperity) declined to where, according the National Center for Children in Poverty, the child poverty rate ranks second only to Detroit. With that said, Lebron is an enterprise all to himself. Peter Schwartz, a venture-capitalist based out of Boston, estimates that Lebron’s homecoming will make the Cavs a billion-dollar franchise from the 19th ranked franchise in the NBA at $515M according to Forbes; a $500M impact on the local economy. Granted the Cleveland economy was already set to incur significant growth, with the arrival of Cleveland Brown Johnny Manziel and the GOP’s announcement to hold the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Lebron’s commitment to ensuring the progression and restoration of his home area is still to be commended. In this day and age where sport is less of ‘for the love of the game’ and is a more business-oriented attitude, awareness of economic influence for your ‘home’ is to be celebrated.
This brings me to possibly the best PR move that Lebron has made in his career. It was made clear that this time around, the spectacle that was “The Decision” and “not 4, not 5, not 6” party, parade, whatever that was, needed to be gone. The selfishness, the arrogance, or as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described in his Time magazine article, the celebration “as if it were the exodus from Egypt and enslavement” needed to be forgotten. A mistake, an act of immaturity, or a realization to grow and respect that where you’re from and what you came from is a bond like no other. Which is what was described in one of the best written, heartfelt, honest recognitions of past mistakes and his plan to resolve his past transgressions (ATTN: politicians, take notice on how it’s done). He’s growing up. He understands the impact he can have. He understands the return his actions can have on others. The state of Ohio, the city of Cleveland, the Cavs fans are all due for a tremendous turnaround.
The fans and the city of Cleveland aren’t the only ones who are looking for a return though. Dan Gilbert, author of the infamous Lebron is a bad example for children letter, the descriptor of the “self-declared former King” letter… I keep reading the letter and more and more does it sound like a speech you would hear from an entertainer in the WWE. But I digress. Yes, Lebron put aside his morality and integrity to play for an owner who described the act of free agency, because unfortunately for Gilbert players are not indentured servants, as a “callous and heartless” action. The same owner who, in 2011, was “among the group of owners holding to the hard line when the NBA locked out its players, willing to sacrifice games to institute a new collective bargaining agreement that limited player earnings and hampered the formation of super-teams”, according to J.A. Adande of ESPN. So what we have here is an owner who one, describes Lebron the way he did in a letter that he published on the Cavs website for four years up until three days prior to signing Lebron (Three days. I wonder what made him take it down. Maybe an estimated $500M in potential franchise growth had to help.), and two, advocated for a stoppage of league play which not only hampers the local city’s economics, the stadium staff, etc., all to limit the power of the players; not to mention the formation of ‘super-teams’. Pretty sure that is exactly what the Cavs have been lining up to do. So there’s that as well. While Lebron is taking the higher road and sees the bigger picture behind his move back to Cleveland, I cringe at the idea that if (when?) the Cavaliers win the championship and Gilbert receives the Larry O’brien Trophy from Commissioner Adam Silver, he will surely be passing it to Lebron James to hoist up for the city of Cleveland as the face of his franchise. How fitting.
As we can see, the NBA is changing. The world is changing. I, for one, hope other athletes can learn to take a book from Lebron’s page and utilize the power their influence can have.