- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

LeBron James is awaiting to be the No.1 pick overall of the NBA Draft tomorrow night, which has become as warmed-over as his rags-to-riches tale.

James hardly needs the wealth and fame of the NBA.

He has a $90 million contract from Nike, a $5million contract from Upper Deck and a team of legal and corporate advisers endeavoring to bring his likeness to your home.

A limited-edition plate collection with his likeness on it is possibly the next step.

There is something incredibly special about a person who merits a limited-edition plate collection.

America eats it up, or eats off it: that unique someone staring up at you from behind an opening in the mashed potatoes.

As the most over-hyped basketball player ever, James is positioned to have a limited-edition plate collection or coin set or whatever the marketplace demands.

James is the ex-high school player who overwhelmed most of the future pick-up playground artists in his midst. He also beat on his chest at the appropriate moments in a game, as if this form of communication is somehow charismatic.

In a perfect basketball world, you the discriminating fan would want his likeness on a number of life-affirming items: posters, plates, coffee mugs, key chains, T-shirts, pillow cases and stickers to place on your doors, windows and mailbox. You could not feel whole otherwise.

Of course, there is something awfully bizarre with this process, if not contradictory.

The professional sports arena is supposed to be one of the undiluted meritocracies in America. You are supposed to earn what you get, whether it is a fat contract, adulation or a role in a bad Hollywood film.

James, alas, has earned nothing at the professional level, which is the antithesis of Michael Jordan, who earned his marketing wealth with old-fashioned achievement.

James is merely an 18-year-old product of the 24/7 information age. He just is. His basketball potential is almost secondary to the synergetic power of the mass media.

It is upside-down, is what it is, the placing of the cart ahead of the horse.

James already comes with layers of bureaucracy, including the requisite flack to tell you the way it is, which isn’t necessarily the way it is. James is set to reinvent the wheel, split the atom and save the whale, judging by the breathless words being uttered in his vicinity. He is King James, after all. Hail King James.

There is a cliche-like aspect to all this.

The first paternity suit could be just up ahead, along with a rendition of the Cheech & Chong road show.

If so, it will be easy to explain.

It will be said that James was granted way too much too soon. How could any teen be expected to hold up to the temptations?

James is sentenced to be a disappointment on the court. He can’t be a combination of Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

He is believed to be human, comprised of flesh and blood, which means he has the capacity to miss shots, alienate teammates and coaches and not inspire America to purchase as many shoes as necessary to justify his pact with Nike.

The shoe dynamic is especially jarring.

James probably has never worked a day at Payless, which at least would give his ideas on footwear a certain credibility. Even then, if he were with Payless instead of the NBA, would you feel compelled to embrace his fashion advice?

What if James pointed to a particularly hideous pair of shoes on the rack? Would that persuade you to buy the shoes, or would you also need him to beat on his chest for emphasis?

Of course, beating on the chest conveys strength and confidence.

Even the neighborhood plumber beats on his chest after fixing a leaky faucet.

Maybe James is adept with a shoehorn and could slip your feet into the defining symbol of a prosperous America.

Who knows?

You do know it is all about the shoes nowadays, even if a few of us missed that important memo.

More and more, it seems, the teens today want to peddle shoes after they have completed their education.

Not that there is anything wrong with peddling shoes.

We all wear shoes, except at the beach, which leads to a marketing opportunity to pitch to those who want to go to the beach with James.

His likeness would look good on a beach towel.

Imagine the envy it would evoke among those beachgoers who missed the announcement.

You would be the coolest person on the beach, no matter how hot it might be.

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