How powerful is LeBron James? The NBA on Monday announced a new TV deal worth nearly triple the money of the existing deal, and one could argue it wasn’t the biggest basketball story of the day.
Or the second.
While the NBA owners were busy celebrating the riches they just signed into, the amount of money James could now stand to make, the potential residual impact of those numbers on future free agents, and most importantly the warning The King sent to the league’s owners in the wake of the new deal that could leave the biggest shockwaves — heading into this season, at least.
The day began with the league announcing it extended its existing agreement with ESPN/ABC and TNT. After the current agreement, which brings in $930 million annually to the league, expires after the 2015-16 season, the new deal will kick in and run through the 2024-25 season — and reportedly bring the league $2.66 billion in annual revenue.
Shortly after that, however, James had his say. According to multiple reports, among James’ comments later in the day:
"I am kind of the guy that has the power, I guess, without even having to put a name on it. … I’m very educated and I will use what I have to make sure our players are taken care of.
"At the end of the day, we will negotiate. We know it’s going to happen at some point because our deal is ending soon. We would love to do it sooner than later. We don’t want to it to happen like it happened last time when we went into a lockout.
"The whole thing that went on with the last negotiation process was the owners were telling us they were losing money. There’s no way they can sit in front of us and tell us that right now. After we continue to see teams selling for billions of dollars, being purchased for $200 million, signing for $550, $750 and $2 billion and now (Mikhail) Prokhorov is possibly selling his majority stake in the Nets for over $1 billion. That will not fly with us this time."
The current collective bargaining agreement, agreed to in December 2011 after a 161-day lockout, can be opted out of by either side following the 2016-17 season.
The reason James’ words carry so much weight, beyond just his popularity and standing as the best & most high-profile player in the game, is his contract. After four seasons in Miami, James this offseason returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team which drafted him No. 1 overall in 2003, with a two-year, $42.1 million contract. The fact that his contract was set to expire the same time as the existing TV deal did not happen by accident.
"It was being a businessman," James told ESPN of his decision to sign a two-year deal in July rather than a max four-year deal. "I understand the business of this sport. It had a lot to do with it."
In a news conference announcing the new TV deal, NBA commissioner Adam Silver admitted that other players did the same as James, agreeing to contracts that would expire in unison with the current TV deal and banking on hitting free agency again when there was far more money to be made.
"Certain agents and players have been timing their contracts," Silver said.
So the league has its windfall, and James soon will get his. But will it come at the expense of another work stoppage, most certainly the next big hurdle looming in the mind of every person with a vested interest in the NBA?
"Clock ticking? The clock never stopped," James told ESPN of the countdown to the summer of 2017. "Even after we came out of the lockout and signed a new deal, the clock never stopped."