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LeBron James to the Brooklyn Nets? A marketing bonanza, both ways

In an article Monday headlined Jay-Z, James relationship should worry Cavs, Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports, suggests that the hip-hop star, a part owner of the New Jersey Nets, may be manuevering to lure the superstar LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers once he can opt out of his contract in the summer of 2010.

That would be the right before the fall when the Nets, as announced, intend to move to Brooklyn, thought construction schedules suggest an arena opening in early 2011 is a best-case scenario.

Wojnarowski noted that James wants to become "sport’s first billionaire athlete," hence the appeal of a larger platform. Says noted sports marketer Sonny Vaccaro, "Jay-Z is the one person that I can put in a parallel universe with LeBron from where they started and where they are now."

He suggests James will be on a "marketing roll" after he leads the United States basketball team to victory this year in the Olympics.

No tampering

Two years ago, Jay-Z, according to the writer, paid no mind to league tampering rules and gushed, “How amazing would that be? I tell people all the time, he’s my friend first. If Cleveland is building a championship team around him then my advice is to stay there. If it’s the Nets who are building a championship team that could be around him then my advice is to come to the Nets.”

There was no fine for tampering, and Cleveland didn't complain. And James, suggests Wojnarowski, may get his endorsement deals increased if he comes to New York.

Nets' flexibility

The front-office moves by the Nets are part of the peculiar NBA game called clearing salary cap space. Wojnarowski writes:
James is the unmistakable target. So much so, the Nets have an internal business plan for the move into the new Brooklyn arena that includes a modest section on his eventual recruitment, estimates of his marketing worth and the salary-cap space that needs to be cleared for his signing.

Wojnarowski suggests there will be "a fascinating story line" between now and 2010, with Jay-Z competing for James's heart and mind against the owners of the Cavaliers, who signed a hometown star to a huge first contract.

For the savvy owners of the Nets, playing a high-stakes game with flexibility, there could be a huge payoff.

The project could stall, with the arena delayed even past 2011. But if it proceeds, the Nets will try to get James. If so, even if the Nets alienate fans in New Jersey with a mediocre team for a couple of years, King James could change the equation across the river.

There's no great push for the Nets in Brooklyn right now, as Borough President Marty Markowitz recognized earlier this month. But good marketing can create momentum, and a star like James wouldn't be good marketing, it would be great marketing.


And the reality...

The Record's Ian O'Connor writes today:
Last night, in a 102-92 loss to the Magic, it took some straining to see past the empty banks of Izod Center seats and toward a meaningful future either here or in Brooklyn. Kidd breathed life into the building, and then slowly but surely sucked the life out.

As for the James deal, O'Connor suggests it's not impossible:
They want Jay-Z to help make that free agent signing happen.

"Pretty much a pipe dream," one high-ranking official called it.

It wasn't long ago that the same was said about Thorn's stated goal of building a winner in the Meadowlands. Then the Nets' president completed the Stephon Marbury-for-Kidd trade, and his team hasn't missed the playoffs since.


  1. I heard about this from a story over on Highbrid Nation and I honestly don't see Lebron leaving Cleveland. He seems like one of the few athletes around today with integrity and loyalty. I could be wrong though.


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