He's still two wins away from his first ring, and there's no guarantee he gets it, but if LeBron James finally gets that monkey off his back, it's worth thinking about how he can become the global icon the NBA wishes he'd become.
However, while we are talking icons, is there anything that LBJ can do to make the world forget about Michael Jordan?
My personal opinion is "not a chance," but maybe with a run of four or five rings combined with a couple more years of MJ running the Charlotte Bobcats into the ground. Until then, Jordan is still the undisputed king of the NBA when it comes to marketing.
Jordan hasn't played a meaningful game in 14 years (nine if you count the stint with the Washington Wizards), but according to ProBasketballTalk's Kurt Helin, Jordan makes around $60 million annually in endorsement money.
The Air Jordan Nike brand still is the premiere basketball shoe sold in this country, and Jordan still has still has lucrative endorsement deals with Gatorade, Hanes and others.
To me, LeBron has that type of marketing ability, but he came around too soon after Jordan's career ended. It will be a long time before people forget about MJ, and by the time they do, LeBron will likely be long retired.
Forbes' Keith Turco believes that it's possible for LBJ to reach the heights set by Jordan.
LeBron has to earn a ring to even be considered in this conversation, and quite frankly not just one ring is enough. A ring would put him in the same consideration set, but it would not automatically give him a seat at the table. In order for him (or anyone else…um, Kobe maybe?) to impact the marketing world and the economy the way Jordan did, he needs to deliver a “first"...
To succeed, LeBron needs to leverage new avenues today that didn’t exist for Jordan. He must embrace new media and technology and learn from others who tried and failed (can you say Shazam and Shaq?). Knowing when to say no is just as important as seizing the opportunities that are out there.
While I don't think James bumps Jordan off the throne anytime soon, I do agree with Turco that he needs to deliver multiple rings and capitalize on markets that Jordan couldn't during his time.
What will ultimately hold him back, though, is Nike. Even if Nike gives LBJ a big push, I don't see them pushing him past Jordan anytime in the near future. Not while MJ is around anyway.
James has done everything on the basketball court except win. He's close to doing that, but even if he does, he won't be winning this battle anytime soon.
No matter what James does on the court the next few games, for the time being, the NBA is still Jordan's game.