Thursday, July 1, 2010 Updated: July 2, 9:29 AM ET
Clippers should hand keys to LeBron
By Arash Markazi ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- I'm not going to pretend to know LeBron James or understand the inner workings of a 25-year-old athlete holding meetings with NBA teams to decide what zip code will be on his multimillion-dollar paychecks for the next five to six years. Maybe I'll be better prepared in another life when I can walk into such meetings with the confidence and clout to wear a T-shirt, sweat pants and sunglasses as James did Thursday.
What I do know is if the Los Angeles Clippers have any shot at signing James, and they will be making their official presentation to him in Cleveland on Friday, they need to essentially hand him the keys to the franchise. Clippers president Andy Roeser needs to literally hand James, and his representatives, keys with Clippers logos on them as if they were keys to a Ferrari that simply needs new rims. Roeser should give them each paintbrushes, put a blank canvas before them, and tell them to forget about the past and that the Clippers can be whatever LeBron and Co. want them to be.
If the Clippers have any chance of pulling off one of the greatest upsets in sports history, they must play to James' inner need to be a mogul and tell him he can have the reins of an NBA team. Forget about being a key piece or the final piece or the missing piece -- tell him he's the centerpiece and allow him to pick every other piece around him.
Playing in Los Angeles might be LeBron James' best chance to forge into the kinds of "partnerships" he seems to be seeking off the court.
While the Nets had folders during their meeting with James' face integrated into their logo, the Clippers should hand James some construction paper and a box of markers and ask him to draw his own logo for the Clippers. Shoot, tell him he can rename the team if he wants. What do the Clippers have to lose? It's not as if they have any banners hanging up at Staples Center that would look outdated if they changed their name and logo tomorrow.
Many fans have long wanted the Clippers to undergo a much needed face-lift and re-branding, and essentially handing over such responsibilities to James and his team of advisors could give the Clippers an edge on other teams thought of as favorites to sign James. None of the other teams meeting with him would ever think of asking a player to re-brand the franchise in his image, but the Clippers could and should do exactly that.
Other teams can sell James on becoming a part of a winning team, but the Clippers can sell James not only on winning (it can be argued the Clippers' roster is currently better than any other team in the running for James) but also on making an everlasting mark on a franchise that will live on long after he retires. As badly as James wants to win championships, he wants to build his brand and his portfolio just as badly. The same goes for his team of friends -- Randy Mims, Maverick Carter and Richard Paul -- who make up the initials behind LRMR Marketing, the management firm he founded almost four years ago with his buddies.
When the Clippers' brass walks into Suite 823 of the IMG Building in downtown Cleveland, home to LRMR Marketing, where James' meetings are being held, they must sell the RMR portion of the firm as hard as they do the L portion. If James can be considered the Vincent Chase of this “Entourage”-like foursome, the Clippers must essentially offer E an executive producer role, Drama a major on-screen part and Turtle a talent-coordinator position to make this work. They need to sell James' friends as hard on coming to Los Angeles as James himself, because when the Clippers leave, his friends will be the ones continuing the recruiting for them long after they've left.
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James wants to be holding a Larry O'Brien trophy over his head at some point in his career, but there's a big part of him that is just as content sitting at the head of a table in a board room or rubbing shoulders with executives. During the past four NBA All-Star weekends, James and Jay-Z have thrown what they call "Two Kings" dinners where they gather some of the biggest names in the NBA and corporate America to break bread and talk about how they're going to take over the world (or something to that effect).
I've never seen James as comfortable as when he was talking to American Express CEO/chairman Ken Chenault and Jay-Z at the dinner.
"We don't want to do endorsement deals anymore," James said. "When I talk to Jay, we always talk about creating relationships and friendships, not endorsement deals where you pay me money and I hold up a product. We don't do that. We all got money in here."
"An endorsement deal is if, Jay, I pay you to show up when I tell you to show up," said James, using Jay-Z, standing next to him, as an example. "OK, so Jay, I'm going to give you this glass and hold it up and smile for me. We don't do that. We do partnerships where I give Jay ideas and he gives me ideas and we sit down and talk about it. It's unbelievable what you can do by just having a conversation."
It may have just been an innocent example over dinner, but it offered some insight into what's important to James. He isn't just looking for a team that can help him win a championship, he's looking for a place where he can forge new partnerships and build his brand, and the Clippers offer him the best location and situation to be a partner and not just a player.
How many other teams would be willing to hand over the keys of a franchise to a 25-year-old and his friends and tell them to have fun?
If the Clippers are willing to do that (and really, what do they have to lose?) they may have a better chance of signing James than anyone thinks.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.