Whenever Knicks fans discussed the chance that LeBron James would sign with their team following next season, they deftly sidestepped the fact that he can make a better salary by staying in Cleveland. The argument went that moving to New York was worth a lot more in ancillary income, and provided a larger platform for everything James and his corporate overlords wanted to do in the future.
That argument died over the weekend, though. The Cavaliers announced that they've sold 15 percent of their team and franchise to a Chinese group. It still needs approval from the NBA's Board of Governors, but that seems like a formality after hearing commissioner David Stern call the deal "the natural next step in our relationship with China."
The deal means a lot for the Cavs and for James. With Chinese ownership, it's pretty likely that more Cavs games will be on Chinese TV. That means more advertising from Chinese companies, who would love to put James' face on their products. Products which don't compete with his existing sponsors, of course, but Nike, Coke and others would be more than happy to increase their deals with James because of his increased exposure.
All of which means that Cleveland's chances of losing James just got much, much smaller. New York is a big market, but even it can't compete with the combined power of Beijing, Shanghai and the rest of China. Yes, he'd still have to play in Cleveland, and if you've seen either of these videos (both of which feature language slightly unsafe for work, especially if you live in Cleveland) you're already aware that the city leads the nation in drifters and its biggest export is crippling depression.
Cleveland doesn't matter in this scenario, though. It's just a studio to beam James worldwide, and the fact that the studio is close to where he grew up doesn't hurt. Nor does the fact that the city has very little other than James to celebrate these days. One of those videos jokes that the city's entire economy is dependent on James, which isn't quite true. Its psychological health, on the other hand, may be inextricably linked to the King.
Losing him would kill the city, and quite possibly take the Cavs with it. Owner Dan Gilbert realized that when he made this deal, a deal that doesn't make much sense for the new investors without James. That's a lot of people bending over backward to keep James happy, even more when you add in the sponsors who like the idea of a Chinese expansion.
Anything can happen over the next year, but it is hard to see a way that James, Cleveland and China aren't doing business together for the next decade.