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LeBron James recently admitted that he’s chasing the figurative “ghost” of Michael Jordan, meaning MJ’s six NBA championship and Jordan’s acknowledged presence as the greatest to ever play the sport of basketball. We hope this particular chase-down block, a LeBron James staple, doesn’t end with LBJ wearing ultra-baggy and pre-torn faded jeans on an NBA sideline in a decade.
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In the ‘Open Run’ podcast on James’ own Uninterrupted channel, James revealed that he shares a sentiment with everyone from the leader of the free world to the college sophomore that you just traded a few Wizards-related Twitter @ replies with – he’d like to own an NBA team, and run the show from up top. Just like MJ, with his Charlotte Hornets.
“I feel like my brain as far as the game of basketball is unique and I would love to continue to give my knowledge to the game,” James said. “And I would love to be a part of a franchise, if not at the top. My dream is to actually own a team and I don’t need to have fully hands on. If I’m fortunate enough to own a team, then I’m going to hire the best GM and president that I can.
“But I have a feel like I have a good eye for not only talent, because we all see a lot of talent, but the things that make the talent, the chemistry, what type of guy he is, his work ethic, his passion, the basketball IQ side of things, because talent only goes so far.”
In the NBA’s history, Michael Jordan serves as the only ex-player to own a team, full stop.
Ex-players like George Mikan and Dave DeBusschere worked as ABA commissioners, Magic Johnson held a percentage stake in the Los Angeles Lakers for over two decades, Grant Hill owns a part of the Atlanta Hawks and ex-Hill teammate Christian Laettner once tried to spearhead an ill-fated group bent on purchasing the Memphis Grizzlies, but only Jordan went all the way to the top with his ambitions.
Partially because Jordan (then working as team president) was in the right place at the right time to assume the debts and take over the moribund then-Charlotte Bobcats, who had frittered away years under former owner Robert Johnson. Mostly, though, because Michael had the cash.
James seems well on his way to his particular pool of gold coins, he’s made over $177 million in pre-tax salary thus far in his career, and recently signed a three-year, $100 million deal that will take him to his 34th birthday. LeBron’s reported “lifetime” contract with Nike could earn eventually pay him ten figures’ worth of salary, and he’s made a series of smart off-court investments in technology that already rival the Jordan Brand line MJ set up just prior to his final season with the Chicago Bulls.
The issue here is that even all of that might not be enough.
The league has come a long way since Jordan purchased the Bobcats for $275 million in 2010, while assuming around $150 million in Johnson’s debts. The Milwaukee Bucks were sold in 2014 for $550 million, but even that figure checks off as a little low considering the amount of cash former owner Herb Kohl put into renovations on the team’s arena and the push to fund a new arena for the team to play in. Famously, the Los Angeles Clippers were sold a few months after the Bucks deal for $2 billion – and that was with the knowledge that the team’s former owner could fight the sale in court for years past the drying of the ink.
James has years to figure out the money end of things. What he does have time to ruminate upon now, even while working as an active player through at least 2019 (and beyond, we hope), is how he would run his own NBA team.
Mark Cuban, most would agree, should serve as a good role model.
Not the carping about refs or that embarrassing first shouty calendar year of running things in Dallas, we submit, but the way in which Cuban intelligently stepped aside to let the basketball people do the basketball work, while immersing himself in new and then-unrealized techniques that challenged the way we thought about “basketball work.”
It’s not just that Cuban kept both Don and Donnie Nelson (who is still with the team as personnel chief) on, when most expected they’d be fired within the week of Cuban taking over, as each ownership takeover is unique. LeBron James could see fit to clear house when he takes over a franchise as he sees fit.
It’s the part where one steps aside; because though the buck might stop with the owner (whether they’re hardly noticeable in the team program, or an international celebrity), James can’t give into the sort of “give me the ball, and get out of the way”-instincts that dog most former top dogs.
As they dogged Jordan, who went into win-now mode as president-turned-owner of the Bobcats, only to see a lone postseason sniff devolve into fielding the team with the worst winning percentage in NBA history.
James seems a little ahead of the game, pointing out that he’d prefer to hire a GM and president so there could at least be some sort of semblance of checks and balances up there.
Of course, all this remains far in the future, and it doesn’t remind a bit of George Costanza finagling his way into securing Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. as prized members of the 1995 New York Yankee lineup. We all do this, but that’s the point.
If the money is in place, and the opportunity presents itself, why wouldn’t LeBron James want a crack at running his own show? Future billionaires, they’re just like us!
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