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LeBron James made clear his plans for the next chapter of his career in May. “I will own a team someday,” he said then. “That’s my next thing.” The Cleveland Cavaliers are the Northeast Ohio native’s hometown team, so it would follow that James would be first in line to put in an offer when his playing days were through, so long as Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was willing to sell the team. Right?
“To be an owner of any team would be crazy,” James told The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd. “If this thing opened up and I’m in a position financially, and I’ve got the right team around me, obviously. But who’s to say Dan will (sell)? I’ve always kept it just player/owner at this point. I guess once I come down to that point, if the conversation needed to be had, I’ll have it. But I don’t have it right now.”
James connected those dots in a broader conversation with Lloyd about how much LeBron’s prolonged greatness has impacted the earning power of his teammates. But while coworkers Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith may have seen their paychecks increase, James isn’t doing so bad himself.
LeBron’s $33.3 million salary this season is second only to Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. The Cavs superstar has made in excess of $200 million as a player, and yet that pales in comparison to what he’s earned off the court through sponsorships and investments. Whenever he hangs up his signature sneakers, it wouldn’t be surprising if James has made close to $1 billion, and he would no doubt have the influential friends capable of putting together an ownership group.
The question is whether the Cavs would actually be available upon James’ retirement, which still seems like an eternity away, given his never-wavering basketball brilliance. The valuation of the franchise has more than quintupled to an estimated $1.2 billion since Gilbert bought the team for $375 million in 2005, and let’s remember Forbes magazine’s values have been well short of recent sale prices. The Houston Rockets, for example, were valued at $1.65 billion when they sold for $2.2 billion.
No matter the cost, it’s hard to imagine James couldn’t come up with the scratch, given his dealings with entertainment and business moguls, but why would Gilbert ever sell? Not only does he have a complicated relationship with LeBron, but the NBA has proven to be a cash cow for investors.
Well, here’s why: Gilbert recently withdrew from a deal to split roughly $140 million in renovation costs for Quicken Loans Arena with the city. Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement in the coming years, the lease binding Gilbert’s Cavaliers to the building would cease to exist in 2027. And while the owner assured Cleveland he had no intention of moving the franchise, Cleveland.com reported in late August, “He could sell the team, and while a team spokesman said there has been no thought given to a sale, sources outside the organization suspect Gilbert to consider selling within the next few years.”
That “few years” timeline might not mesh with LeBron’s timeline, especially if what he told GQ magazine in October — “I damn sure would love to stick around if my oldest son can have an opportunity to play against me” — holds true. LeBron James Jr. is currently a 13-year-old seventh-grader with offers from Duke and Kentucky, which means he would be eligible for the 2024 NBA draft.
The elder LeBron would turn 40 in December 2024, which would be the same age that Michael Jordan retired. So, if Gilbert’s rumored timeline is closer to that 2027 date, suddenly the idea of James owning his hometown Cavaliers isn’t so crazy. Far-fetched, maybe, but not crazy. And definitely fascinating.
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