By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

The first line of his business card reads "King James Inc."

Below that, it says "Randy Mims, manager/personal assistant."

When he handed me the card almost two years ago, he was not too far removed from selling cell phones for a living. He had a dream like King, a dream that ran through his boy. Bron was the future, and we all knew it.

But who knew that one day, Randy Mims would be King.

*****

From the outside looking in, it doesn't look good. Doesn't make sense. Doesn't seem smart. Why would a multi-million dollar company sever ties with the management group that legally and financially represented it since its incorporation, in favor of an unproven, untested upstart that has less than four years' worth of professional negotiation experience among the top three executives, with no one certified as an agent? Where no one has a law degree?

LeBron James & Scoop Jackson
King James, with our own Scoop Jackson.

When a player fires his agent or attorney, it isn't necessarily news. It happens often and we rarely hear about it or care about it. Allen Iverson leaves David Falk, no news. Kobe leaves IMG, nothing.

But when LeBron James files papers, as he did Tuesday, with the NBPA, informing it that he is no longer represented by Eric and Aaron Goodwin of Goodwin Sports Management (GSM), it's news. Deeper, when he replaces them with two of his best friends and one of the most infamous people in professional sports, and a record label, it's time to ask questions.

Why? What's the point? Why now? What's really going on?

Why, after only two (three, unofficially) years, would the fourth most marketable athlete in the world (behind Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher and David Beckham) cut the people who helped shape him into the icon he's become? More importantly, why would he replace them with a non-tenured – at this point, nonexistent – agency instead of going to, say, IMG, which could make him the black Beckham? Or even, from a recognition standpoint, the next Ali?

Why would LeBron James put his future in the hands of his friends?

From the outside looking in, nobody knows. From calls I put in to the principals involved and some of the people this move will affect, no one seems to have the answers. Everything is speculative. As I heard someone say in the background when I called the offices of LeBron James Inc.: "We gotta lotta work to do."

I hope they know what they're in for.

*****

Think insurance. An analogy: Representation in professional sports, especially in the NBA, where salary caps generate fixed-rate contracts, is like insurance. No one ever gets insurance for, let's say, a car with the intention of things going wrong. Ever seen someone enter a Bentley dealership, put $350K down, drive out of the lot and purposely run into a brick wall?

Insurance protects us from the unexpected and unforeseen. No one predicts disasters or dramas. People create disasters; drama finds athletes. In LeBron's case, nothing unforeseen has hit him or his career. If anything, his original management team made sure that nothing affected the Inc., and that nothing dented his image. Everything's been irie.

Which perhaps is one reason the decision to fire and hire seems safe now. No one foresees anything going wrong in the world of LBJ. But what if it does? What if something happens beyond LeBron James' control, something between injury and opportunists? Is the new team LeBron is about to put into play prepared to handle things if and when something goes wrong?

Are they ready to be an "insurance" company?

LeBron James
King James Inc. is about a lot more than basketball.

Once more, no one has answers. But they do have faith. And hope. Even the people who have been and will be negatively affected by this say off the record that they hope everything works out for LeBron, and that even though it's risky, he's smart enough to pull this off. Nike isn't worried, even though there's a belief in Beaverton, Ore., that there will be a little more work to do now from a company standpoint. NBA officials aren't worried – unofficially, LeBron is still their future as far as they're concerned.

So the only person who seems to be concerned about this is ... me.

I love radical thinking and actions, but I'm a sucker for safe havens, too – especially when it comes to young black men, business and professional sports. Over the last 18 years, I know GSM has lost only six clients. And of those six, four have come back. They do not compromise their business principles. They are a safe haven. The un-Don King of basketball.

I also know that experience in business is often more valuable than knowledge. LeBron's new squad may have the knowledge, but their lack of experience with handling a business of this magnitude has eaten away at my faith during the last 48 hours.

But it hasn't gotten to my hope.

*****

Maverick Carter, Mims, Richard Paul, LeBron and Wes Wesley. That's the new Cru. Thick as Sanaa Lathan. All of them boys. All of them my boys. Over the past couple of years, we've been in and out of each others' lives; me more into theirs than them into mine. Mav, since the days he started interning at Nike while LBJ was still at St. Vincent-St. Mary. Randy, since the day he gave me his business card. Shorty (Paul) since a Slam cover story. Bron, since he was the basketball diary for the same magazine. And Wes, since birth.

All are beautiful brothas; all have each others' best interests at heart. But when I heard the news that they were on the verge of doing big thangs – maybe bigger thangs than we realize – from the outside looking in, it looks like disaster. But we can't see what they see.

LeBron James is not a human being. That's the first thing we need to understand. He is a business. The "Inc." that is on Randy's card is what LeBron James is. He's been a business since the eighth grade. America made him be that, and he was smart enough to know it. Every decision LeBron has made that involves his career up to this point has been about business. People who know him will tell you he is one of the most astute business people they've ever met when it comes to making decisions for his company. He has Trump's mind with Gates' vision. When Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, they weren't just talking about his ability to ball.

But this latest move had to be done from the heart, not necessarily from the mind. Mav (23), Randy (28) and Shorty (25) have been LB's fam since "Reasonable Doubt," and they have no reason to doubt each other now about anything. But this isn't about nepotism; this is about experience. This is about insurance.

No one in the camp that is about to run LeBron James Inc. has the experience believed necessary to represent a $200M company that, in the on-air words of Bill Walton, will be worth "over $2 billion over the next seven years" to the other companies connected to it. They are thinking that LeBron's next NBA contract is a lock as far as dollars are concerned, and so there is no need to dispense that 10-to-20 percent to someone who just has to read over the details.

The contract offer, whoever it may come from – the Cavs (definitely), the Knicks (doubtful), the Nets (possible) – will be maxed out, regardless of what collective bargaining agreement the players union and the league reach this summer. And by that time (2007), the partners in LeBron James Inc. will have enough experience to negotiate the extensions (or extinctions) of the deals put in place by the Goodwins when they represented the franchise.

Is this why LeBron (20) set GSM free? Or is this business move all about friendship? A business taking a gamble on itself with itself. It's the equivalent of Tiger Woods' taking his franchise – development, marketing and personnel – from IMG and turning his business existence over to his wife. And if you believe that the Wall Street Journal wouldn't have that on its front page the day it happened, I have a 50-1 horse at the Derby you can bet on.

From what I've been told, an outside agent in certain situations will probably come in as a "guide" to help LBJ Inc., through contracts and negotiations and deals. It will be 15 days before LeBron can make this official, according to NBPA rules. Fifteen days to get the presentation of his new empire tight before he presents it to the world. Speculation and all, experience or nothing, the business of King James is about to give the fake-it-'til-we-make-it credo a whole 'nother meaning.

Which, if played correctly, could turn out to be a beautiful thing.

*****

The name should ring a bell. Wes. "Worldwide" Wes. Just two months ago, I told y'all that Wes Wesley is the most powerful man in basketball. Think I was lying?

If the truth is true, he's about to eclipse everyone in professional sports on all power listings. He ain't a client; he's the player's president. If the rumors are true that he's the one who orchestrated Def Jam Records to get into Def Sports Marketing, then I'm leaving my representation right now and signing with them.

LeBron James
LBJ would be wise to keep his head up, and his eyes open.

The involvement of Def Jam in this is beyond interesting. Everyone is throwing Russell Simmons' name around, when it's Shawn Carter (34) – another of Time's 100 Most Influential – who is flying this G4. He's the sitting president and CEO of the record company that apparently is involved with reshaping LeBron Inc.

Jay-Z (Carter is Jay-Z, for those who don't know) is part-owner of the New Jersey Nets and has a signature shoe deal with Reebok. Those last two facts alone create a scenario that can/will be a great conflict of interest come contract time for LeBron with the Cavs, as well as a source of contention over his agreement/contract with Nike when that deal is up in 2010.

And before anyone jumps to any conservative conclusions about why LeBron is doing what he's doing with his brand management, think about this: If you were a 20-year-old sitting on a couple of hundred mill, and there was a 34-year-old businessman (who you idolize) about to conquer the world through various business ventures and he wanted you to be a part of it ... wouldn't you want to be down?

And who's to say that, once official, LeBron James Inc. will not have legal, financial and brand marketing counsel provided to it by the same team that is responsible for making Def Jam one of the most successful cross-cultural companies in America, this generation's Motown?

If you think about it that way, LeBron's five-man Cru might be much smarter than all of us think. Or are giving them credit for.

*****

From the outside looking in, maybe we don't know what they do. Maybe we have no clue about how they are going to make this happen. To us, it's all about LeBron. Always has been, always will be.

This time, we're concerned. The concern that comes from hearing that he's making this move carps at the inner part of those of us who don't want to see him make a big mistake. Throughout history, there have been hundreds of athletes, especially young black ones, who have entrusted their lives to those who love them. Some have had the superstar's best interests at heart; others were in for the smell of the sell.

But none had what LeBron has. None had this much, this early. None had this much to lose.

When the smoke clears and the dust settles, we still might not know the truth behind the early end to the business relationship between GSM and LBJ, Inc. Eventually, people will talk and stories will be told. But that isn't going to stop those of us on the outside of this from caring about what happens on the inside.

That's just the nature of why it will break our hearts to find out that LeBron made the wrong decision.

That's the nature of why we even give a damn.

Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines; and the author of "Sole Provider: 30 Years of NIKE Basketball," "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.



        Paginated view

Scoop_Jackson
Scoop
Jackson
RISKY BUSINESS