The NBA Needs LeBron James In L.A.—As a Clipper

Eddie BeckerCorrespondent IMay 16, 2010

BOSTON - MAY 07:  LeBron James #23 takes a breather against the Boston Celtics in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden on May 7, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

For over a decade now, there's only been one king of Los Angeles.  There's only been one man able to move the dial in such a way the very axis of NBA viewership shifts just to see him play. 

For the past several years, Kobe Bryant has owned L.A. with little competition. But there is one guy who can step in and rob the West Coast market share.  That man?  LeBron James.

Perhaps you've heard of him. James, a career 27.8 points per game player, boasting two MVPs, and a fistful of All-Star appearances will be spending his summer shopping himself around to potential new suitors. 

Certainly, there's no question the Cleveland Cavs would love to retain him, but the reality of marketing and basic dollars and cents would tell you he'll be looking to offer his services elsewhere.

The cities being thrown out as candidates are New York, Chicago, and Miami.  All would be great destinations with great potential to be elite teams with a few tweaks.  But really, Chicago and Miami have already tasted the life of being a title town, and New York is, well, New York.

And it's not that the actual city of Los Angeles NEEDS James. Bryant and the Lakers have been more than adequate to quench the basketball thirst in southern California. 

But just as The Joker needs Batman, Duke needs the Tarheels, and the Yankees need the Red Sox, the Lakers need...the Clippers?

The one thing the NBA truly lacks is rivalry.  There is no Bird vs. Magic anymore.  There's no Reggie Miller vs. the Knicks dramatics. 

Today's NBA has it's share of stars, but no real cutthroat intense rivalry that mirrors what baseball has with the Yanks and Sox or even football with the Patriots and Colts.

James becoming a member of the Clippers would create such a massive rivalry that over time would mirror that of any team rivalries in any other sport. 

The Clippers have long been the unofficial punchline of professional sports franchises.  They're the only team other than the Grizzlies or Bobcats that have never won an NBA title, conference title, or division title. 

Beyond the decades of losing, their owner Donald Sterling is more interested in making money than winning games.  Yet when it comes to James, that reality may actually help the Clippers.

When James entered the NBA in 2003, the Cavs franchise was worth an estimated $258 million.  In 2009, the Cavs were estimated to be worth around $476 million.  With those eye-popping stats, you could argue that James alone is worth over $200 million. 

That's a lot of Clipper jerseys—or ticket sales.

Likewise, the Clippers were valued at $295 million after the 2009 season.  That's good enough to be ranked 23rd in the league.  Yes, a greedy man like Donald Sterling would surely like a piece of the James pie, seeing as the short-term investment would be well worth the return in the long run.

What it gives the Clippers a chance to do is become a somewhat respectable franchise.  They've got solid players in position already with Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, and last year's No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin.  Add James to that, and you've got an automatic playoff team, if not a top-four seeded playoff team.

What it gives to James is a chance to prove himself still as a big dog of a team, but this time in a big city.  Cleveland is a great place I'm sure, but the opportunities a city like Los Angeles can give to someone like James are huge and plentiful.  He is, like Jordan was, his own brand and will only get bigger from here.

What a move like this does for the NBA is elevate it back to the level it was in the '80s and '90s. 

Not only do you get the top two players in the game meeting more than just twice a year and playing in the same city, you get a budding rivalry that has all the potential to explode into something bigger than basketball has ever had. 

You get marketing opportunities galore. 

More than anything, you get back the casual NBA fans that left the game after Michael Jordan left and the '98-'99 lockout.  You essentially grow the game, which is good for every team regardless of whether or not James plays for them.