We know you’re a brand-savvy guy. We read where you said you wanted to be a billionaire. You don’t need more business advice, and if you did, you’d probably get it at one of your lunch dates with your friend Warren Buffett. But we just want to make sure one thing is clear: You can make more money playing in New York by far than you can in Cleveland.
People in Ohio will try to tell you otherwise. In today’s global media landscape, they will say, a superstar like you can build a following from anywhere. We heard it from David Falk. “Players at that level,” he said, “are going to make money anywhere. We live in a digital age.” It’s a fair point. The NBA’s marketing department will throw its weight behind superstar players wherever they are (this was the essential lesson of the Jordan era). And the people who make decisions about endorsement deals generally follow their lead. You know this as well as anyone, seeing as Nike signed you to a seven-year, $100 million deal before the company knew where you would play. And the Cleveland market hasn’t exactly scared away Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, State Farm, and Upper Deck.
But that’s looking at everything the wrong way. The question is not whether you can get national, even global, exposure playing in Cleveland. The question is whether you can get more in New York. And the answer is a resounding yes, especially if you win. Listen to Vince Gennaro. He did marketing for Pepsi for years and is now a sports-revenue consultant. The prospect of you as “the centerpiece of the resuscitation of one of the marquee franchises in sport” is dizzying, he says. According to him, if you won a title with the Knicks, “the income opportunities would be boundless. It would be staggering.” Nike sales, he says, would “spike enormously.” You’ve done some slick commercials in your day. We especially enjoyed the Nike “Chalk” spot featuring Lil Wayne and some clever variations on your pregame talcum-powder hand-drying ritual. But check out the Nike ad, up above, that digo, a New York creative shop, already made for you. That work for you?
Steve Stoute, the marketing guru behind Translation LLC who lined up your recent deal with McDonald’s, is understandably bullish on your ability to make money from anywhere, but even he acknowledges that “access to money is driven by proximity.” He believes the city’s private-equity crowd would open their wallets for just about anything with your name on it. And we’re not just talking endorsement deals. Name a venture you might like to try—restaurants, nightclubs, a fashion label—and you’ll find the best in the business waiting with open arms. Sonny Vaccaro, the man who persuaded Nike to sign Michael Jordan, told us that if he had “a new shoe company and $200 million to spend on an athlete,” he would give it all to you as a Knick, that he’d “be crazy not to.” Vaccaro, admittedly, is prone to hyperbole (and Nike might have something to say about that deal), but one levelheaded NBA agent we spoke to estimated you’d take in an extra $20 million a year playing here. Gennaro said it best: “You can’t beat the combination of great player and great market.”