Is LeBron James Serious About Becoming the First Billionaire Athlete?

Mark BirdsellContributor IIIMay 20, 2010

CLEVELAND - MAY 11:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on while playing the Boston Celtics in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 11, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio. Boston won the game 120-88 to take a 3-2 series lead. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

LeBron James has been quoted as saying he wants to become the first billionaire athlete.  If that is true, then his best option may be joining the New York Knicks this summer.

There are a number of General Managers who believe LeBron is the answer. That with him it is possible to build a championship team.  However, the real question is does LeBron believe in himself?

If he believes that he is the best player in the NBA and can recruit anyone to come play with him, then the Knicks should be his choice.

As reported by Forbes.com, LeBron can buy stock in the Madison Square Garden, Inc. (MSG).  This company was spun-off from Cablevision earlier this year and owns Madison Square Garden, the Knicks, the Rangers, and the Liberty.

The New York Knicks are the only team owned by a publicly-traded company.  Even though the team cannot include stock in MSG in LeBron’s contract, there is nothing that would prevent him from buying it on his own.  There is no doubt that LeBron, and whatever other high profile free agent he brings with him to New York, would increase the value of that stock.

For the last two seasons there has been speculation that LeBron would become a member of the Knicks.  His favorite baseball team is the Yankees, he loves playing in the Garden, and it was always suggested that he could make more money from marketing opportunities in New York. 

LeBron James has been successful marketing himself so far.  Being in Cleveland has not hurt his global status as one of the greatest athletes on the planet.  Also, despite speculation, there is no clause in LeBron’s contract with Nike which will give him a bonus if he plays in New York or any other larger market.  However, the ability to invest in the Knicks offers an opportunity that no other NBA team can offer.

There is evidence that James is at least considering relocating to New York this summer.  The New York Daily News reported that he contacted Knicks center Eddy Curry about working out together at some point this offseason. 

Curry is one of only four players currently under contract with the Knicks.  That number could increase to seven if the team picks up the options on Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens, and extends a qualifying offer to Sergio Rodriguez.

If the Knicks aren’t convinced that Curry is part of the future, then there are other possibilities.   There have been rumors of a Curry for Gilbert Arenas swap.  The Washington Wizards won the draft lottery, and are expected to select John Wall, making Arenas expendable.

If the team traded for Arenas there would still be enough cap space to resign David Lee, or possibly sign Carlos Boozer.  Any such contract could have a starting salary of $10-12 million.

Also, Tracy McGrady was quoted as saying, when he was acquired by the Knicks, that he would be willing to take a pay cut if New York acquired two max-contract players this summer. 

McGrady did not play well in a Knicks’ uniform, but he was still recovering from surgery and he wasn’t in game shape, having not played almost the entire season.  If he is willing to sign for the veteran minimum, approximately $1.4 million based on his experience, I can’t picture anyone complaining about him being the 3rd or 4th option on the team.

The Knicks would then be left to fill out their roster with minimum contract players.  The team would most likely resign Earl Barron as the backup center, and then find other players who would jump at the opportunity to play with LeBron.

New York has shown over the years that ownership is willing to spend past the luxury-tax threshold to put a perpetual 25-35 win team on the floor, so there is no reason to think they would stop spending once LeBron James joins the team.

Unlike a lot of small-market teams, the Knicks basically have an unlimited budget, and even though it is unlikely they would win the title next season, it would be possible in a year or two.

If the New York Knicks become an annual title contender, then there is no reason to suspect MSG’s stock price will drop.  And if LeBron is smart, he would invest in himself and buy that stock.  I’m sure all of his advisers, including friend and legendary investor Warren Buffett, would tell James that if he truly wants to become the first billionaire athlete, then this is the move to make.


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