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The LeBron James Question(s)
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Nine
by Brian S. Wise
24 May 2003

Answering the inevitable questions about the latest 18-year-old basketball phenom. 

The official LeBron James website is an incomplete being, but if you keep a close eye on the “LeBron News Flash” long enough, you will be provided a link to an article on ESPN.com, concerning the beginning of what one day may very well become the James Empire.  “LeBron James is more than a month away from signing with an NBA team, but Wednesday night [21 May] … [he] agreed in principle to a seven-year deal with Nike, sources told ESPN.com.  Sources said the deal was worth more than $90 million …”  The deal carried a $10 million signing bonus.
Not to be outdone (in proportionate terms, anyway) is the premiere trading card company on the planet, Upper Deck, who has signed LeBron James to “a five-year contract … for at least $1 million per year plus a $1 million signing bonus, according to one source who has knowledge of the deal.”  One must give permission to have his likeness used for the purposes of profit-seeking, and in the annals of trading card profit-seeking, this is the highest money deal ever.
LeBron James is 18-years-old.  He has just completed his senior year at St. Vincent – St. Mary high school in Akron, Ohio and will graduate next month.  He is the greatest basketball player in the history of American high school athletics (that is not an exaggeration).  He will be drafted number one overall, by the Cleveland Cavaliers, in the upcoming NBA draft, and he is being held out as professional basketball’s (next) Savior.  I will now take your questions.
One: Is LeBron James – hell, is anyone – worth $90 million without ever taking one shot as a professional?  There are two ways to look at it.  In the conventional (i.e., popular) sense, no; no one is “worth” $90 million.  But in the free market sense, a man is worth whatever anyone is willing to pay them for their lawful services.  Nike has amassed $10 billion in approximate worth, and so to pay LeBron James something along the lines of $12.3 million a year is chump change when weighed directly against the potential revenue he can produce for the company.
Two: Shouldn’t LeBron James have gone to college first?  I take two distinct points of view on this.  Firstly, yes.  Great athletes should go to college, and subsequently earn degrees, because the odds of their going on to become a franchise player (or even one who can lay claim to a career longer than just a few years) are against them.  It benefits them to have something to fall back on should their athletic ambitions come up short, due to lackluster performance or injury.  Obviously, even if the LeBron James experiment fails, he will have no need for a college degree, if managed properly.  (That is the world’s biggest “if.”)  But it sure would have been nice, for this columnist in particular, to say James had come from the North Carolina program, which hatched one Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
On the other hand, from where did Anna Kournikova earn her college degree?  Not many people have considered the point: whenever we speak of whether or not high school athletes should first go to college, we are speaking only of black athletes, usually by name.  If there is a standard suggesting no one should pass to the professional ranks of any sport without first suffering through some amount of college (and, in my fantasy, enrolled in off season courses toward the end of a degree), then it goes just as well for white baseball and tennis players as it does black basketball players.
Three: Is LeBron James The Chosen One, as Sports Illustrated once named him?  He is not.  Michael Jordan was The Chosen One, and whoever comes after Jordan will have to be content with second place, provided he can raise himself to second place.  But James does possess the sort of raw (and frighteningly enough, largely untapped) talent that leads to uncontrollable drooling, hand-rubbing and evil sneers of greedy anticipation among basketball fans (I am one, sneering as this is being written).  James appears to be a nice enough kid, and so one hopes for the best for him, that hopefully he can progress along nicely and pick up a championship ring somewhere.  (It will not be in Cleveland; they are not a franchise dedicated to winning championships, just one dedicated to making payroll.  Perhaps, and hopefully, the James acquisition will give the Cavaliers the motivation to take themselves seriously.)
Four: Did not you, Brian S. Wise, once score 55 points in a game?  I did; thanks so much for asking.

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