LeBron James on Super Team Might Be Good for Miami, Bad for NBA

LeBron James
LeBron James speaks during the announcement of his future NBA plans in Greenwich, Connecticut. Photographer: by Larry Busacca/Getty Images

July 9 (Bloomberg) -- LeBron James’s decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to play for Miami might be good for the Heat and bad for the National Basketball Association.

James’ decision to sign with the Heat brings the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player together with guard Dwyane Wade, the 2006 Finals MVP, and All-Star forward Chris Bosh, concentrating three of the league’s best players in a single market.

While the trio might turn the Heat -- owned by Carnival Corp. Chairman Micky Arison -- into title contenders, NBA Commissioner David Stern and the league’s broadcasters -- Walt Disney Co.’s ABC and ESPN units and Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting System Inc. -- may wish for a greater distribution of talent, said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports.

“Stern and ESPN and ABC and Turner would prefer to have the stars spread out among several teams,” Pilson said in an interview. “You can’t just show Miami all the time and certainly the TV carriers benefit when you have attractive stars and personalities on multiple teams.”

James, 25, said last night in a nationally televised program that he was leaving his hometown Cavaliers after seven seasons and “taking my talents to South Beach.” He spurned large-market teams such as the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers.

The decision came a day after Wade said he’d re-sign with the Heat and the 6-foot-10 Bosh, who spent the previous seven seasons with the Toronto Raptors, announced he was coming to Miami as a free agent.

“I feel like this is going to give me the best opportunity to win and win for multiple years,” James said on ESPN. “I want to be able to win championships.”

Possible Albatross

The possibility of a “super team” will build interest in basketball next season, even if it’s among people rooting against the stars, said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. A losing Miami team, however, might become a league albatross.

“If they don’t win, if there are injuries involved, if infighting exists, then I think it’s really problematic for the NBA,” Carter said. “You’ve now put three of your top players in a modestly sized market as opposed to having them dispersed and drawing attention to multiple markets.”

New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are the top three U.S. television markets, according to Nielsen Co., while the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area ranks 17th.

Attracting Fans

The combination of James, Bosh and Wade in Miami may help basketball attract fans, said Steve Patterson, the former president of the Portland Trail Blazers.

The courting of James got fans talking about basketball four months before the season begins, he said.

“The whole process has been a great boon to the NBA in the offseason,” said Patterson, who owns Lake Oswego, Oregon-based Pro Sports Consulting LLC. “It’s amazing when you think about it. It’s an international story.”

James made his announcement during an hour-long program called “The Decision” that the player’s manager Maverick Carter said was prompted by the “unprecedented attention and interest surrounding” his player’s choice.

The University of Phoenix Inc. and Microsoft Corp.’s Bing website co-presented the program, while James’ LRMR Marketing also secured sponsorships from Coca-Cola Co.’s Glaceau Vitaminwater and McDonald’s Corp. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America was the beneficiary of the show and estimated it would receive about $2.5 million.

Pilson, now president of Pilson Communications Inc., in Chappaqua, New York, said the league can also benefit from the publicity surrounding James’s choice.

“I’ve heard the argument that this circus is sure to persuade the owners to ratchet the system down in the next labor agreement,” Pilson said. “That it’ll lead to a work stoppage and so forth. The answer to that is to have fun while you can. Here we are talking about the NBA when you have baseball in full bloom and a very exciting World Cup.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Aaron Kuriloff in New York at akuriloff@bloomberg.net; Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net; Barry Rothbard in New York at brothbard@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net.