The news that Lebron James is to become a Miami Heat player may or may not have caught your attention, depending on your interest or lack thereof in the NBA, but the sheer scale of the hype that surrounded the lead-up to his protracted revelation would surely have turned your head. I know it did mine.
In fact, the “Lebronathon” was even heavier on hype than David Beckham’s “inauguration” as a Los Angeles Galaxy player, and came close to the Obama-mania of the last U.S election back in 2008, boasting a live announcement on national television, billed as “The Decision”, that was sandwiched between a tsunami of pre and post speech analysis from sea to shining sea.
You’d have thought King James was a real king.
Let me say for the record that I acknowledge that Lebron is an extremely gifted basketball player.
And, according to expert opinion, may one day surpass Michael Jordan as the best of all time. But that day has not arrived yet.
In fact, though he’s a 2-time League MVP it could be argued that he’s not even the greatest player currently in the NBA, as Kobe Bryant is at least as influential for the Los Angeles Lakers and he has 5 Championship rings while Lebron has none.
Granted, King James is six-years younger than Kobe, but by Lebron’s age of 25 Bryant was already a 3-time NBA champion -– a feat he’d managed by the age of 23!
What’s more, unlike Michael Jordan, Kobe’s predecessor as the face of the NBA, Lebron had yet to transcend his sport in any obvious way prior to this week’s made-for-TV reality show, especially on a worldwide scale.
Jordan was known globally as a cultural icon to millions who’d never seen him play. Lebron, at present, just plays great ball. End of story.
Indeed, during a discussion I had in London recently, the consensus of opinion was that Lebron could walk down most British high streets and go largely unnoticed except for his height. While a colleague of mine in CNN’s Hong Kong bureau felt he was similarly unknown there.
Certainly, those are unscientific assumptions, and perhaps in some places, such as Greece and Spain, where basketball has a lot higher profile, King James would not be so anonymous. But neither, I suspect, would he be universally regarded as a household name like say, Cristiano Ronaldo or Usain Bolt.
Of course, the NBA would beg to differ, as it lays claim to being a globally important league in a globally supported sport, with Lebron as its jewel in the crown.
However, despite the fact that NBA teams and players can attract a crowd when they travel overseas, I suspect that much of that attention is down to novelty value and the fascination by some with all things American.
In other words, they’re not necessarily dedicated followers of the NBA. Certainly, it appears that interest in the league is growing worldwide, but the idea put forward by one American analyst that Lebron’s decision would, “shake up the world” was massive overstatement. He was choosing a club not revealing the secret to world peace!
That didn’t stop the “Countdown to Lebron” dominating the day in the U.S though. Neither would anyone concede that maybe the rest of the world was not on the edge of its seat awaiting the announcement.
But then, as the PR machine decided when his free agency was first discussed more than a year ago, this was the “Summer of Lebron”, and the world was going to hear about it whether it wanted to or not. Which camp were you in?