LeBron James had made it clear his ultimate goal is to become a billionaire. A max contract this off-season with the Knicks, Nets, or any other NBA suitor would land net him slightly less than $100 million. If LBJ is going to reach 10 digits, he needs to have a marketing scheme, not a game plan.
Since Michael Jordan retired, the NBA has been trying to find the next MJ. You can argue that the heir to 23 is Kobe Bryant, or even James, but neither will ever ‘Be Like Mike’ until they brand themselves like Jordan has.
The truth is, if Michael Jordan had come around in 2006, not 1986, he’d be well on his way to being a billionaire, because his super-agent David Falk would have made it happen. But during the 80s and 90s, that money just didn’t exist, which means it’s LeBron’s title to claim.
So how does King James go about becoming a billionaire? He needs to market himself globally—by playing in Europe. Before you scoff at the idea, digest a few interesting facts LeBron could find tempting.
James is already huge in the United States, and his popularity wouldn’t change even if he played in Spain, because let’s be honest, we’re still going to tune in to watch him. If he did go to Spain, he would probably go play for Real Madrid, the club with the most championships (eight) of any team in the Euroleague.
Yes, the same Real Madrid that soccer star Christiano Ronaldo calls home. LeBron could put Real Madrid on global map for basketball, and solidify it as one of the best places for professional sports in the world. You can bet that draw a lot of international attention.
In addition, the ULEB (In English, the Union of European Leagues of Basketball) just passed a rule stating each Euroleague club’s home arena must sit at least 10,000 people. What better way to lure LeBron James to Real Madrid and Europe than a brand new stadium? Heck, how about they throw the naming rights to the stadium into LBJ’s contract. “LeBron James Arena”; that has a nice ring to it.
In addition, during the regular season, the Euroleague can be seen on television broadcasts in 191 countries, and can be seen by up to 200 million viewers weekly China on a weekly basis. LeBron could be more popular in China than Yao Ming!
But at the end of the day, he still needs to play basketball. The ULEB has started a trend (most notably followed by FIBA) to start adopting NBA rules. This means when LeBron hops across the pond to play his ball, it won’t be too different.
And finally, since the ULEB is relatively new (1991), so are its scoring records. LeBron would tear up and rewrite the record books. The most recognizable athlete in North America, making a run for some of the NBA’s records, could make the same impression on the rest of the world too.
This is a global society we live in today, and James recognizes that. If he wants to be a billionaire, his personal brand—just like Jordan before him—needs more global exposure.
In reality, LeBron James probably isn’t signing overseas, and it’s crazy to think about it. But hey, to be a global icon, one needs to be branded globally.
We’ve already seen what King James can do on a basketball court—it’s almost like watching one of the globetrotters play. And who knows, maybe one day, he’ll actually be one.