It's not about winning: LeBron has outgrown Cleveland


That ratings from the 2009 World Series showed the greatest year-to-year growth in the history of baseball shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. The New York Yankees are a worldwide brand and play in the nation’s largest television market and the Philadelphia Phillies were the defending champions. It was, to say the least, a significant upgrade from the year before, when the then relatively unknown Phillies and small-market Tampa Bay Rays put up the worst Fall Classic ratings in history.

Of all places that saw a dramatic hike in viewers, however, Cleveland, OH seems to raise the most eyebrows. At least on the surface. The Indians’ were essentially eliminated from playoff contention by May and it was now basketball season, which meant it was time for the entire city to focus on LeBron James.

But the second game of The King’s season coincided with Game One of the World Series and James didn’t stand a chance. The Yankees and Phillies obliterated the Cavs and Toronto Raptors in the ratings. When you look closer, the reason for baseball’s dominance over even someone as celebrated as LeBron becomes a little bit clearer: The starting pitchers in the first game of the World Series were C.C. Sabathia for New York and Cliff Lee for Philadelphia. The two were teammates just a season ago – in Cleveland.

If anyone understands what James is going through regarding his impending free agency at the end of this season, it’s Sabathia and Lee. Both won Cy Young Awards pitching for the Indians and in consecutive years, were traded to contenders in the National League because the Indians were anything but playoff bound. Both have said they loved being in Cleveland (Sabathia even took out a full-page ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer to thank the fans) but they knew the team wouldn’t be able to match offers from some of the wealthier franchises when it came time to sign contract extensions.

In other words, Sabathia and Lee outgrew Cleveland.

James knows the feeling. With the exception of a handful of members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he has been the most famous name in Cleveland since the day the Cavs drafted him. Next summer, he’ll have the opportunity to explore Free Agency for the first time, and it’s difficult to believe that he won’t strongly consider moving on.

To be clear, the Cavaliers will offer the same maximum contract any other team offers James. Unlike baseball, the NBA has a salary cap. So money isn’t the issue. Celebrity is. More than almost any other athlete on the planet, James knows how big he can be. More than once, he’s told friends and the media that his goal is to become a global icon.

The city of Cleveland can’t help James there. With its still-declining population and still-increasing unemployment rate, the city is hardly the ideal place for anyone to build a brand. It’s not quite Detroit, but all of northeast Ohio has faced similar problems, thanks to the lack of blue-collar jobs available, poor school districts and high poverty.

If James, to borrow the Army slogan, truly wants to be all that he can be, New York might be the only viable option. The city does everything but put up a statue of him next to Lady Liberty every time he comes to Madison Square Garden. Can you imagine what 41 games a year at MSG might be like? Let’s put it this way: Jay-Z might own a piece of the New Jersey Nets, but he OWNS Madison Square Garden every time he performs there.

But even he was just the opening act for James last Friday night before the Cavs/Knicks game.

To best help explain why he needs to move to the biggest possible stage, James might want to look to someone only a few months older than he is, but worth about a billion dollars more. In the best-selling book, “The Accidental Billionaires,” about the beginnings of Facebook, author Ben Mezrich attempted to explain why founder Mark Zuckerberg made the decision to move from Cambridge to Silicon Valley.

To paraphrase: “Harvard was fine, but California was the only place to be if you wanted to be a part of the revolution.”

Things worked out pretty well for Zuckerberg. And if he were advising James, he’d undoubtedly tell him the same thing he was told: “Reach for the stars.” New York might not be the only place for LeBron to attain his lofty goals, but one thing is crystal clear:

He can’t stay in Cleveland.

This also appeared at


The Cycle 3:46 PM, November 09, 2009  

There are plenty of parallels between LeBron's current situation and the environment that Wayne Gretzky was in when he left Edmonton for LA. Just like Cleveland, Edmonton was a small market and it appeared that Gretzky outgrown it. Both players were in their absolute primes and if LeBron goes to New York, he will have the same type team that Gretzky had in Los Angeles (in other words, awful).

The one difference and it's major, Wayne Gretzky goes into LA as the unquestioned best player of the NHL with four Stanley Cups to back that up. LeBron if he goes to New York would likely be still in debate on being the best player and probably comes without any titles. Celebrity is all well and good, but without any championships, LeBron will be hurt in terms of legacy and personally, I think that's more important.

While Gretzky didn't win in LA, he at the very least did what Beckham could never do and make his sports important in a town that doesn't care about it if for only a short period. LeBron can't do that since basketball would be back if there's a winner at MSG. Also, it's not impossible to enjoy fame when playing for small markets. Ken Griffey Jr. for example was just as famous as any baseball player in the 90s and he played in Seattle. LeBron really could be a celebrity anywhere, but the fact is he should go to wherever he can win a title and validate that celebrity and as currently constructed, neither the Knicks or Nets do that.

Rob 5:00 PM, November 09, 2009  

The guy above posted exactly what i was going to say. Well done.

Anonymous 6:42 PM, November 09, 2009  

The first post was right except for one thing, which Dan touched on.

LeBron should go where he can win, excpet he shouldn't go to a place that will not allow him to grow as a brand.

For example: If Portland had LeBron they would become a favorite. Is LeBron really gonna go to Portland?

New York makes the most sense because its the biggest market and he'll have plenty of time to win a title. Remember hes only 24 and he think about how much credit he'll get if he helps bring a title. He'll be like Jeter, only 100 times bigger.

whatworks 9:15 PM, November 09, 2009  

ATTN: This is for 'serious' Sports Bettors Only: This guy John Morrison,
"The Sports Betting Champ" wins 97% of his NBA & MLB sports bets.
He makes $70K every week!

Jason 11:29 PM, November 14, 2009  

How's it going?

You have a great sports blog here. This is my first time visiting but I like it a lot. I have two sports blogs and I'd like to exchange links with you. Let me know if this is cool.


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