Washington, D.C., is the stage large enough to fit LeBron James
The nation’s capital is where he can pursue his championships, make his millions and build a power base
There’s a place nobody’s asking about that’s calling LeBron James’ name.
Washington, not Los Angeles, is the most powerful city in the world. Washington, not Houston, is where every significant issue relating to sports, from steroids to chronic traumatic encephalopathy to gambling to paying college athletes, has been and will be addressed on Capitol Hill. Washington, not Philly, is where you apply to the National Park Service to convene a rally to call national attention to gun control, women’s rights or Black Lives Matter.
Dwyane Wade told Fox Sports Radio the other day that he doesn’t believe his dear friend LeBron is making a decision driven exclusively by basketball, that family and lifestyle considerations will matter. Wade added that “basketballwise, he can bring along whoever,” and ain’t that the truth, as we just saw from LeBron getting that entirely ordinary group to the NBA Finals. Wade cautioned that he didn’t have any inside information, but of course simply knowing LeBron as well and as long as he has is inside information enough. And Wade’s words ought to serve as insightful.
LeBron, first gently and now confidently, is becoming a national power broker, a champion of social justice and the issues related to its pursuit. This search, even more than his last two free agencies, is about more than winning and money; there’s an intellectual growth and personal conviction that has led to a real sense of his off-court influence and how that can move the culture. No, he’s not going to shut up and dribble.
And Washington, D.C., is where he can all at once pursue his championships, earn his hundreds of millions and make a glorious noise of protest, agitation or advocacy.
Of all the places Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire philanthropist and entrepreneur and one of the richest women in the world, could have invested her considerable resources, she only a few months ago bought a significant stake in what sports enterprise? Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards.
Jeff Bezos, one of the richest people in the world, could have set up camp anywhere but chose the nation’s capital, specifically The Washington Post, and is renovating the largest home in D.C., where his neighbors include the Obamas. Amazon’s HQ2 may not be far behind. Bezos isn’t bringing fascinating people to interact and engage, with all due respect, to Cleveland; he’s bringing them to Washington.
Jobs and Bezos, in a great tradition, came to Washington to expand their power bases. So did Kevin Plank, Under Armour’s founder and CEO. Most of the Fortune 500 companies and every country in the world have a presence in D.C., not San Antonio or New Orleans. LeBron would be in fabulous company.
Oh, do we need to talk about the basketball portion of this equation for a moment?
OK, here’s how it would work. Since the Wizards don’t have the salary cap room to simply recruit and sign LeBron, he’d have to opt in on the final year of his current deal and do so with the stipulation that the Cavaliers trade him to the Wizards. (After a one-year contract, his next deal would convey his Bird rights to the Wizards.) The Wizards would have to give up Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre and at least one first-round pick and perhaps have to manipulate the roster like the club has never done before. LeBron would surely want to play with John Wall and Bradley Beal, which would give the team today’s requisite three stars, not to mention veterans much more battle-scarred than, say, the young Los Angeles Lakers, who have yet to be humbled by the NBA playoffs — also requisite for this sport. The Wizards would hope to keep Markieff Morris and attract veterans who’ll give up millions (in the mold of Golden State Warriors reserves David West and Shaun Livingston) to play with LeBron on a team looking eye-to-eye with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. LeBron would have a lot more to work with on the court than Michael Jordan when he found Washington irresistible nearly 20 years ago. What a wonderful chance for Washington’s basketball franchise to get it right this time. Just as LeBron once needed Wade to show him how to close on a championship, LeBron could now similarly show Wall and Beal.
So what if the Wizards have to get creative and color outside the lines a bit? Ted Leonsis, now more than any time in his life, should feel emboldened to take risks and think big in the context of pursuing a championship with the Wizards. Leonsis, his Capitals having won the Stanley Cup, now knows what it feels like to be a champion. No price is too great when history remembers you as a champion. And even though Leonsis would have to be willing to pay a tax, literally, if he committed to a team featuring LeBron, the best player on the planet ultimately pays for himself. Did you see the story the other day that the Warriors grossed roughly $130 million in their 11 home postseason games? Go to at least the conference finals three or four times and we’re talking grossing a half-billion dollars from the playoffs alone. The club’s ticket sales and sponsorships (which league sources say are OK but far from great) would be solidified for years.
D.C. is a mere one-hour flight from Cleveland/Akron, Ohio, so about four hours closer to his hometown than Los Angeles. A man with his conscience doesn’t confine his battles to athletic competition. There are plenty to fight in the nation’s capital. If LeBron (bless his heart) wants to take on Donald Trump and appeal to his own constituency, his own base, then why not get right in his space and do it here, wage the battle from the front lines instead of 2,500 miles away? The horizon has widened for an athlete/businessman/athlete, and the potential for LeBron the Influencer is limitless.
What LeBron James has done since the age of 18, even with 21st-century scrutiny and unrelenting pressure, is create a remarkable profile, his athletic agenda pursuable wherever he goes, but his sense of activism is still developing and evolving, in need of platform, a grand and international stage that only one city in America can provide.