- - Monday, July 2, 2018


You can’t say the NBA was hurting with LeBron James in Cleveland.

Nearly every measure was up last season, including attendance, TV ratings, merchandise, and streaming. The league dominates social media like none other. And the average franchise value is at an all-time high.

James apparently could’ve played in Memphis or Salt Lake City without losing any personal wattage or reducing his marketing value to the NBA. Lesser stars can do quite well on both counts in markets smaller than Cleveland, like Anthony Davis in New Orleans and Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.

We’re long past the time when high profiles and national appeal were constricted outside of major metropolitan areas, particularly New York and Los Angeles. Oakland and Oklahoma City are home to some of basketball’s biggest personalities. San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard could be on that list, too, if he ever opened his mouth.

But despite the league’s ability to market players in any city, and players’ ability to promote themselves via the Internet, nothing really compares to luminaries joining the Lakers.

Hollywood has a knack for drawing the brightest stars and James is just the latest.

Of the NBA’s top eight scorers in history, only Michael Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki never wore the purple-and-gold. Assuming James passes Jordan next season (he’s only 1,254 points behind), Lakers will occupy the top four spots: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and James.

The league’s glamour franchise has lost its luster lately. After missing the playoffs just five times in its first 65 years, the franchise has failed to reach the postseason the last five years. It also stopped being a draw for prime free agents who preferred to not play with Bryant, who retired in 2016.

James might prefer to not play with Lonzo Ball, or more accurately, someone whose father is LaVar Ball. And he probably rolls his eyes at the “feud” between 20-year-old Ball and 22-year-old teammate Kyle Kuzma, who have exchanged barbs through Twitter, Instagram and a rap song.

After spending most of the last eight seasons on veteran-laden teams in Cleveland and Miami, James is like the old man in the nightclub with the Lakers.

But this move isn’t just about basketball. It’s about lifestyle and life after basketball. Living well in Los Angeles is great all by itself, especially for a native Ohioan. The James family surely won’t miss Cleveland winters while enjoying sunsets on the beach.

As the wife and kids soak up SoCal, James can work on his side job as a budding media mogul. Being in L.A. puts him closer to the movers and shakers he already does business with through SpringHill Entertainment, his multi-platform production company.

“LeBron James will have one of the most exciting careers to be a part of for the next two decades,” NBC executive Paul Telegdy told ESPN The Magazine last year. “Business, entertainment, anything you could apply branding to, he stretches the imagination.”

He’s the best player on the planet and the most powerful athlete in entertainment, a combo he’ll accentuate with the Lakers.

His new team won’t win the title next season, but it won’t miss the playoffs again, either. Whether president Magic Johnson acquires Leonard or DeMarcus Cousins this summer or must wait until 2019 to stock the roster with star talent, the Lakers are back.

Instead of staying in the East where he enjoyed direct flights to eight consecutive NBA Finals, James will face tough layovers in West preliminaries against heavyweights like Golden State and Houston. He must beat them sooner or later if another championship awaits, so why put it off?

Though we had good reason to think James was headed to the Lakers, there’s still a “wow” factor. It had to happen before we believed it. Remember, we once thought Russell Westbrook was headed there. Paul George declared his intention to sign with them, too. Yet both spurned their hometown team and signed multi-year contracts with OKC.

There’s only one downside for Silver and the NBA: James’ departure makes the East-West imbalance even more pronounced. Dan Feldman of NBC Sports points out that Joakim Noah is the only active player currently in the East who’s been an All-NBA first- teamer; a dozen such players reside in the other conference.

Oh well. Staying up late to watch Warriors games was hard enough. Now, Pacific time has another attraction worthy of appointment-TV. James has gone West and our eyeballs will follow.

That’s good for him, good for the Lakers and good for the league.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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