LeBron sneezes, and the basketball world catches a cold
LeBron James needed Creative Artists Agency to form his superteam in Miami and fulfill his championship destiny. But when it comes to selling the LeBron brand, he needs only one person: LeBron.
When the biggest star in the sport leaves the most powerful agency in that sport, Hollywood-based Creative Artists Agency, we double-down on the news and Internet traffic value of an otherwise innocuous decision. (Far more innocuous than LeBron's last Decision, anyway.) When you begin the headline with the word, "LeBron," whatever follows is bound to become a frenzy.
Welcome to the first mini-frenzy of the 2012-13 NBA season.
Sources close to the reigning third-time MVP and first-time champion confirmed reports that James has, in fact, parted ways with CAA and agent Leon Rose to branch out with longtime friend Rich Paul, who also is leaving CAA to form his own representation firm. The irony will not be lost on anyone that Paul's firm will be called "Klutch Sports Group," and will be based in Cleveland.
Insert irresponsible speculation here.
In truth, James' decision had nothing to do with anything CAA did or didn't do for him, and the possibility of changing teams again when he has an early-termination option in 2014 (and then, a player option in 2015) did not factor into the discussion, either. For all practical purposes, nothing at all will change as far as James' business and marketing dealings, which will continue to be handled by LRMR, the firm formed by Paul, Maverick Carter and Randy Mims that had been managing James' formidable business and marketing portfolio even while his basketball representation was handled by CAA.
James is a max player from now until the end of time, so there is nothing that Leon Rose, William Wesley, Paul or anyone else could do to get him more basketball money from this day forward. The max is the max is the max. But it's too simple to say nothing will change from the standpoint of James' basketball representation.
The role of superstar agents has shifted since the day individual max salaries were capped in the 1999 collective bargaining agreement away from negotiating salary and toward getting clients sent to teams of their choice. CAA, which also represented and will continue to represent Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, deserves credit for forming the Miami superteam built around James in July 2010. Any further Big Three nation building as it pertains to James will fall to his new agent, Paul, who has been learning the agent business for the past several years at CAA and whom James believes is ready for the challenge.
(CAA will continue to reap the commission on James' existing contract with the Heat until he opts out of it or it expires. So Paul is working with James "on spec," so to speak. Of course, Paul's firm would not exist without LeBron.)
Paul's client list also includes the Clippers' Eric Bledsoe, the Cavaliers' Tristan Thompson and the Bobcats' No. 2 pick, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It remains to be seen whether heavy-hitting CAA clients close to James and his crew -- such as the Clippers' Chris Paul, the Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, Wade, Bosh and others -- will jump ship to join James' new outfit. When James sneezes, the basketball world catches a cold -- or, at the very least, comes down with the sniffles.
But it's important to note that what works for James in his case probably won't work for CP3, Melo or literally any other basketball player walking the face of the Earth. James is a rare uber-star whose stature and footprint are so formidable that he doesn't need the marketing chops of Hollywood peddlers to sell his brand -- and, in fact, hadn't been utilizing that aspect of CAA's talents since he left his first agent, Aaron Goodwin. When CAA helped James infamously take his talents to South Beach, James needed CAA -- as well as Wade and Bosh -- to achieve his basketball destiny as a champion. But when it comes to selling the global LeBron brand, he literally only needs one person: LeBron.
It's beyond dispute that LeBron and his LRMR crew bungled the Decision, as did every other person and entity involved in it. To be fair, LeBron and those in his inner circle also learned from it and have made consistently better decisions ever since. LRMR's partnership with Fenway Sports Group in the spring of 2011 has been a boon for James, giving him equity in soccer power Liverpool and access to investors and marketing opportunities the world over. Titans of industry now sit in glass-encased offices in Hong Kong discussing marketing deals for Liverpool and for one individual pro athlete: LeBron.
If you needed any more proof that LeBron is a global brand all by himself, look no further than the buzz generated by his latest decision, which for practical purposes amounts to little more than changing underwear. Just a word of caution for any NBA star thinking about following in his footsteps: What works for LeBron probably won't work for anyone not named LeBron.
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