By Roberto Pedone
WINDERMERE, Fla. (
) -- Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star LeBron James is a wanted man: In less than 24 hours, he is going to decide where he will sign to play in the NBA as a free agent. If you're a diehard Cavaliers fan, you're probably going to have some sleepless nights as July 1, the first day of NBA free-agency period, approaches. James is expected to fetch a five-year deal for $97 million or, if he stays in Cleveland, a six-year deal for $125 million.
There is also no doubt that with so much money at stake a number of
could benefit off LeBron's final decision of where he wants to play basketball.
Team LeBron announced last week that James isn't going to go on a nationwide recruiting tour as many had expected. LeBron is passing on the private jets and high-end courting and instead staying in Akron, Ohio, preventing his free agency from turning into a spectacle. But don't let that fool you into thinking he's definitely going to sign with Cleveland.
In fact, one recent event indicates to me that he might have already made up his mind to leave Ohio. Recently, the city of Akron held a LeBron Appreciation Day at the University of Akron's InfoCision Stadium. James showed up late for the event, finally arriving 10 minutes before the jamboree was scheduled to end.
Then, to the 100 remaining fans of the original 4,000 who'd been in attendance, he called Akron "my home and my life" and said that everything he does he does for the city. "I'm going to continue to do great things," he continued. "I love every last one of you. Akron is my home."
Now, does that sound like someone who's planning on staying in Ohio? To me, it sounds like someone who's expressing his appreciation as he prepares to leave Cleveland for another stadium.
Cleveland has a small edge on re-signing James because it can offer him around $30 million more than any other team over the life of a max contract. But if James is serious about winning championships, Cleveland is probably not on the top of his list, since the talent surrounding him is mediocre at best.
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So which teams, aside from Cleveland, actually have a chance at James? Only eight have the salary cap space to sign the Chosen One: New York, New Jersey, Miami, Chicago, Minnesota, Sacramento, Washington and the Los Angeles Clippers. This list doesn't include a couple of teams, such as Dallas or Houston, that could pull off a James signing through a sign and trade.
According to consensus Las Vegas gambling odds released by R.J. Bell of Pregame.com, the Chicago Bulls have now taken over the No. 1 spot of most likely to land James, with a 55% probability. That's 4-to-5 odds, with the Cavaliers next at 5-to-1 odds, then the Miami Heat in third at 6-to-1 odds and the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets as 10-to-1 underdogs.
The top rumors floating around the sports world have LeBron going to Miami with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. I live in Florida, and they're actually reporting this on the local news and in the local newspapers, even though it's unsubstantiated. Keep in mind, If LeBron is truly all about the money, then he could pick Florida or Texas since neither state has an income tax.
It's no secret to the world that LeBron wants to become a billionaire athlete. He's been quoted many times saying just that. Plus, let's makes no mistake about it -- he's good friends with
for just that reason. This alone could weigh heavily on this decision of where he ultimately decides to go.
That said, here's a look at some of the
The pure stock play off of LeBron James is one of his biggest sponsors,
, a worldwide seller of athletic footwear and athletic apparel. James inked a new deal with Nike back in March that is reportedly longer than the seven-year, $93 million contract he signed with the company in May 2003.
Nike president Charlie Denson has been quoted as saying he doesn't care where LeBron ends up playing, but I believe that is nothing more than a politically correct statement. Let's face it: With the company pushing more and more into China, where basketball is hugely popular, I am sure that Nike would jump for joy if James ended up in a bigger market, where he'd sell more Nike shoes and other James-branded products.
LeBron's royalties-based Nike contract would almost certainly produce millions more for the basketball star in a major market. Some basketball analysts think that James would be more valuable to Nike if he landed on a team that can actually pull off a championship, which would probably take New Jersey and New York out of the running and favor teams with more-established rosters, such as the Bulls and Heat.
Case in point: Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant's jersey continues to be the top-selling jersey in China despite LeBron's rising popularity in the U.S. According to
Darren Rovell, Nike has a $400 million basketball operation in China, which is experiencing some massive growth of around 12% to 15%. If James puts himself in a position to win some NBA championships, Nike would be sure to benefit the most since it's highly leveraged to basketball and King James.
If the New York Knicks manage to land James, it will definitely give a boost to the publically traded owner of the team,
Madison Square Garden
estimates that LeBron has been worth about $100 million to the Cavaliers during his seven-year stint in Cleveland. That number could pale in comparison if James makes the move to the Big Apple. Investors might rush into shares of MSG, because James would surely improve the company's profitability through ticket sales, suite sales, merchandising sales and network ratings. James has an extra incentive to go play in New York since he would put himself in a much better position to land big endorsement deals on Madison Avenue.
According to Patrick Rishe, a professor of economics at Webster University, the Knicks with James would boost the
rating in addition to bringing in an immediate $10 million to $20 million increase in revenue. Rishe thinks the Knicks franchise value would see an increase of $150 million with James on the team.
Another company that could benefit if James lands in a bigger advertising market such as New York, New Jersey, Chicago or Miami is Germany-based producer of sportswear and sports equipment
(Pink Sheets: ADDYY). The company has an 11-year partnership with the NBA, worth over $400 million, to make the league's official uniform and apparel. Jersey sales for King James will rise not just if he changes teams but also due to the fact that James is changing his number from 23 to 6 starting next season. LeBron already ranks as the second-highest-selling Jersey, and he's not the only big-name player looking to switch teams this off-season.
Who Owns MSG?
Adidas could also see jersey sales surge for other top players that are up for grabs, including Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Joe Johnson, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming and Dirk Nowitzki. All of these well-known stars are free agents, and they could potential switch teams and also sport different numbers. Adidas is truly sitting in the sweet spot to benefit off of the open market in 2010 for NBA superstars.
Finally, investors might want to put filmed-entertainment producer
Lions Gate Entertainment
on their radar for a possible LeBron James trade. The company owns the distribution rights to
More than a Game
, a 2009 documentary that follows James and four of his teammates through the trials and tribulations of winning a high school basketball championship in Akron, Ohio. The film had only a limited theatrical release, so sales could really go through the roof if James ends up in a bigger market, especially a market with a more global reach into China.
It's also worth noting that
holds a 32% stake in Lions Gate.
To see more LeBron James stock picks, including
, check out
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-- Written by Roberto Pedone in Winderemere, Fla.
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