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Saturday, August 23, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 3/23/2003

Mr. Basketball is also Mr. Marketable

COLUMBUS - Marketing genius and basketball legend LeBron James played his final game for Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary yesterday.

People who look at James and see a Hummer-driving, diamond-stud-earring-wearing, cocky 18-year-old stud athlete are missing the big picture.

James' ability to promote and market himself while still in high school is a true American success story.

With James in the lineup, St. Vincent-St. Mary won three state championships and appeared in four consecutive championship games. The Irish will likely become the first Ohio high school to win a mythical national basketball title. In addition, James was named Mr. Basketball three years in a row.

James: media savvy James: media savvy
JAY LAPRETE / AP Enlarge

James is a basketball star and carnival barker rolled into one. He's spent time with Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders. He knows how to get the word out.

Basketball fans - young and old, but especially young - gravitate to him as if he were the Pied Piper. He signs autographs before and after games.

After staking the Irish to a comfortable lead in Friday's semifinal, James took a seat on the bench. A young boy of about 8 asked James for his arm band.

James, who was talking to a teammate, turned and gave the boy his full attention. He honored the boy's request - with a smile. The boy returned to his seat, beaming.

Eight-year-olds don't have the money to buy designer jerseys, sneakers and sweat suits, but their parents do. Thousands of kids and teenagers are potential James fans - and potential consumers.

James is expected to be the No. 1 pick in June's NBA draft. Whose athletic gear do you suppose the kid is going to wear?

James will become a multi-millionaire after signing a shoe deal - even before signing an NBA contract. He'll become one of those special athletes with his own personalized shoe and clothing line.

He has a winning smile that advertisers love. He's camera friendly, a publicity magnet.

He orchestrates news conferences like a polished politician. He isn't intimidated by speaking in front of large groups of reporters. He's mature beyond his years.

The NBA is already marketing James. ESPN - which broadcasts NBA games - has featured James on the cable network all season.

James is an easier sell than most current NBA stars. With Jordan - who at 40 remains the league's most heavily marketed player - about to retire, James is vitally important to the league.

James is smart enough to understand how the media operates. The media can make or break you.

James took a public whipping after his mother bought him a $50,000-plus customized sport utility vehicle. His life was an open book after he was suspended for receiving two “throw-back” jerseys from a Cleveland clothing store.

James' response was to score 50 points in his first game back after Hummergate and 52 points in his first game after the suspension was lifted.

It might be a long while before we see another high school player this good.



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