Photo Courtesy of Johnny Nunez
LeBron James doesn't want to do endorsement deals anymore. His words, not mine. He already has enough money and doesn't need any more to hold up products and smile at the camera. Again, his words, not mine.
While there is certainly more to the story than that, the one thing that can be gathered from James' bold declaration is that he also doesn't need New York. He doesn't need to leave one of the best teams in the NBA next year and join one of the worst in order to boost his profile in the biggest media market. Wherever James goes, powerful people follow, no matter the location or venue.
That was evident the night before the NBA All-Star Game when James and Jay-Z partnered to throw an exclusive dinner and party where they wined and dined some of the elite in sports, entertainment and business. The inspiration for the third annual "Two Kings" event was to build relationships with some of the biggest Fortune 500 companies as James, Jay-Z and other guests such as Beyonce, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Spike Lee, Jesse Jackson, John Legend and Gabrielle Union sat down with executives from corporations ranging from American Express to Coca-Cola.
After all, who needs New York when you have a nondescript white tent nestled in the hills of an upscale resort in Scottsdale?
"We don't want to do endorsement deals anymore," said James as he stood next to Jay-Z. "When I talk to Jay, we always talk about creating relationships and friendships not endorsement deals where you pay me money and I hold up a product. We don't do that. We all got money in here."
When James said that, Jay-Z shook his head as if to say he could always use a little more. "I know, we're in a recession," said James putting his arm around Jay-Z, who added, "The dinner is really about the conversation, not only having us in commercials but having true partnerships because all rappers don't rap at dinner tables and all ball players don't talk in the third person."
The swanky soiree, paid for by James' newest "partner," Sprite Green, had a distinctive emerald feel to it from the water fountains outside to the carpet leading to the hidden makeshift tent where guests were treated to a three-course meal, capped off by a champagne toast by James and Jay-Z. "Green is the most beautiful color in the world," said James as he raised his glass. "That's how you create partnerships, with the color green."
As James spoke with Jay-Z and Ken Chenault, the CEO and Chairman of American Express, about a few ideas they had, it was clear that it didn't matter where James played in 2010. This wasn't about the name on the front of his jersey but building the name on the back. James doesn't need to live in New York to be a Madison Avenue mogul -- he just needs a table, a few drinks and plate of petite fillet and jumbo grilled prawns. This is where deals are made, partnerships are forged and brands are solidified.
Later on, Jay-Z, sitting next to Beyonce, looked around the room and said, "Next year, I'm going to personally do the seating list and I'm going to sit you over here and that guy over there and [switch everyone up] because it's all about the conversation and continuing the dialogue so we can better understand each other."
To be clear, James is still open to taking your money and putting his name behind your product, he's just not calling it an endorsement deal if that makes sense. "An endorsement deal is if, Jay, I pay you to show up when I tell you to show up," said James, using Jay-Z as an example. "OK, so Jay, I'm going to give you this glass and hold it up and smile for me. We don't do that. We do partnerships where I give Jay ideas and he gives me ideas and we sit down and talk about it. It's unbelievable what you can do by just having a conversation."
So if it's not about the money and endorsement deals ... is James ready to silence the rumors that he's leaving Cleveland for New York? "No, I'm worried about this season," he said. "I'm not thinking about 2010 yet." Apparently, that's one conversation that will have to wait for next year's dinner.