LeBron James' dad du jour will be placed under house arrest Friday, and replacements are already lining up.
The kid is being courted from here to Beaverton, Ore., and if he ever needed a strong father figure, it's right now. But Eddie Jackson -- LeBron's so-called dad/advisor/moneybags -- just got three years for mortgage and mail fraud, leaving a 17-year-old and his mom twisting in the wind.
So this is the other side of the LeBron James story: choices. People in Akron already think that Jackson bought his way into LeBron's life four years ago, and now the kid's a free agent again. His hype is at its pinnacle, and in the aftermath of television's highest-rated high school game ever, LeBron James needs to be able to weed out the leeches. Now more than ever.
It is not clear if he can do it. Out of the blue last year, he began calling Jackson "dad", but only after he was driving Jackson's platinum Navigator to school. Jackson subsequently bought LeBron a '95 Ford Explorer, and it simply reeked of good old-fashioned pay-off. It reeked of I'll get you this car now, you include me in your NBA posse later.
"That's B.S.," Jackson says. "I don't need his money. I was successful without it. I don't want his money. I am a God-fearing person who goes to church, and I tithe. You can visit with my pastor and ask him. Take the kid's money? I'd never do that. LeBron is not just a fly-by-night situation with me. Our situation is very deep, deeper than anyone knows. Everyone's passing judgement since the spotlight hit. But when he was little and LeBron needed this and that, I was there. When he needed company, I was there to check him out, to wrestle with him, play with him. Besides, Gloria is a strong woman, and if he or she felt I had an ulterior motive, I wouldn't be there. They are strong individuals. Both of them."
In deference to Jackson, he has tried to do some productive things, has tried to make sure LeBron would be taken care of in case of injury. He contacted an insurance broker, David Ferraro of International Specialty Insurance in North Carolina, the same broker who took care of Jay Williams going into his junior year at Duke. Ferraro helped LeBron get insured for what's believed to be $5 million.
"It was the first time we'd done that with a junior in high school," Ferraro says.
But since that 31-point night on ESPN2, the insurance underwriters have actually called Ferraro back. They want to offer an even larger insurance policy now. And that's why LeBron James needs a stable advisor he can trust, someone who's not laundering money behind everyone's back. Like Jackson did.
Gloria claims she knows what she's doing. She has been to Beaverton, along with Jackson, to meet with Phil Knight and Nike, and she has sat in on meetings with Merrill Lynch and so forth. She says it's all so much, she doesn't have time for a job.
"My job is handling 'Bron's business," she says. "His affairs. That don't leave time to clock in a 9-to-5 or an 8-to-4. I almost wish some days I was working 9-to-5. This is a 24-hour job. And still being a mother."
This is a woman who still drops off LeBron's bag lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when he forgets to take it with him. This is a mother who went out to J.C. Penny's late one night, to buy LeBron pajamas to wear at his school's pajama day the next day. "Because of his height, I had to buy XXXXL," she says. "To get the length. So I was up till 3 in the morning, sewing them smaller at the waist. They looked good when I got done."
And now this is a woman who has to help her son pick an agent. What does she know about picking an NBA agent? The word from several sources is that Sonny Vaccaro of adidas wants to make it easy on her. They say Vaccaro wants to steer LeBron to Arn Tellem, who is based in L.A. But that remains to be seen.
But what about all the people who will want to be LeBron's new friends?
"Oh yeah, I feel that a lot," LeBron says. "But as soon as I feel it, I have to tell 'em like ... A couple of people at games have said like, 'How you doing, LeBron, is it cool for an autograph?' And I'll be like, 'yeah.' And then they'll ask me if I need anything, and I'll be like, 'Nah, I don't need anything.' I mean, what do I need from you? I've got everything in line. I don't need anything from a person who's just asked me for an autograph."
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