Change clothes: Marketing, not tradition, drives LeBron’s 6th sense

Taking No. 6 for a test drive 

And just like that, LeBron James has decided – in his seventh year in the NBA – that he needs to honor Michael Jordan, so he’s switching his number.

I mean, is there anyone that believes that this is his true motivation?

Bear in mind that SportsAngle.com has long been the unofficial home of LeBron, with his image plastered all over the SA corporate headquarters. We’ve been down with The King since the start. You’d be hard-pressed to find bigger apologists for the manchild from Akron.

But though I don’t expect The King to come out and detail his true motivations here, make no mistake, though I don’t doubt this plays at least somewhat of a role, it’s not by and large to pay tribute to Jordan, who has an easy enough time paying tribute to himself.

LeBron, on his switch to his old high school football number – turned upside down – and his expectations that the rest of the NBA should follow suit:

I just think what Michael Jordan has done for the game has to be recognized some way soon.

Like, you know, with a Hall of Fame induction. Other than that, it’s not like the guy is Jackie Robinson. He obviously impacted the game, but there’s no great social change that he influenced, except causing inner-city kids to rob each other for his sneakers.

Believe me, I’m not painting LeBron’s number switch as an entirely bad thing. But you have to look at the situation for what it is. I’ve made the contention on this site that virtually everything LeBron does right now is a calculated move designed to pump up his status as a “global icon.” (His words)

Witness:

I've been known to love sneakers like this, that most people would despise Nike puts out a Yankees-geared LeBron James sneaker – which I won’t lie, I’d cop if I wasn’t a Mets fan. He’s paying tribute to the World Champs… while keeping his name involved with the New York community as his free agency approaches.

— LeBron somehow arranges for the creation of open gyms for high school students in New York, correlating with his one trip to the Garden this year. It’s a nice touch… and further suggests he’s attempting to create some sort of perceived relationship with the City.

— After his Cavaliers beat the hapless Knicks, LeBron offers encouraging words to rookie Toney Douglas – who I suppose would not have to lose his No. 23 next season regardless of LeBron’s decision – and shares an embrace with up-and-coming Danilo Gallinari. It’s LeBron playing mentor… or it’s instilling the possibility that he’s grooming future teammates.

Looks like you'll have to change the number on that jersey, kidIt’s impossible to suggest that any or all of these recent moves are the cool, calculated moves of a Madison Avenue titan, but the possibility remains. Much as how every last move Jordan did was designed to help lead him to some sort of victory, LeBron’s mind is constantly working toward giving himself the most market value, the most attention, the most mystique and hype.

I’m not saying any one particular action of his definitely has a self-serving motive, but it would never surprise me if they all did.

I’ll repeat: There’s nothing wrong with the fact that LeBron has designs on being the next billion dollar athlete, joining Tiger and Jordan in the pantheon of  the demigods. To do that, he has to have his name on the tongues of as many people in as many households as he can.

This jersey didn't even last as long as his No. 45 baseball jerseyIt’s a nebulous goal: There’s no particular benchmark to achieve. So he keeps driving, keeps working, keeps maneuvering. His skill on the court is by all means prodigious, but that’s often not enough.

You have your Jordans, and you have your Dominique Wilkins, your Clyde Drexlers. It’s that ‘it factor’ which separates LeBron from, say, Brandon Roy, Danny Granger. And James constantly feeds it and nurtures it.

Which brings us back to his number switch, from the iconic No. 23 to No. 6. LeBron is no joke – he’s a student of history. He knows the significance of a change in number. When Jordan switched from No. 23 to No. 45 – ostensibly because the Bulls had retired his old number – every high school kid in America needed one of those No. 45 jerseys, even if they already had the No. 23 model – actually, especially if they did.

When Kobe did it a couple of years ago, he cited a whole bunch of reasons he wanted to switch from No. 8 to No. 24 – he wore it in high school for a while, he works on his game 24/7, and so on. But the main reason is that after recovering from the public relations hit that went along with being accused of rape, Kobe had climbed to No. 4 in jersey sales with a bullet. And he wanted to be No. 1.

Forcing bandwagon fans everywhere to open their checkbooksAnd sure enough, Kobe was No. 1 in 2007. And 2008.

Of course, this change covers LeBron if he stays in Cleveland. If LeBron had signed with another team, his jersey would have been the top-seller regardless of what number was on it. Now, even if he stays close to home, he guarantees that his jersey will be the top seller regardless because everyone will need the new No. 6.

Sidebar: Julius Erving wore No. 6. Dr. J was a big influence on Jordan. Uh, shouldn’t we retire that one too?

Honestly, it’s a masterstroke for LeBron. And nobody can really criticize him since his premise is that he’s giving respect to the greatest player ever.

But make no mistake: LeBron wants to be the biggest and best at everything. And that includes jersey sales.

LeBron was second behind Kobe last year in that category. He’ll be No. 1 next year. And that, my friends, is exactly the point of the change.

Just another brick in the wall, as LeBron and the rest of us hurtle unflinchingly toward July 1, 2010.

Esoteric

3 Comments

  1. This is funny. Considering I wrote this for the front page of the fantasy league I have at espn.com:

    “Title: Come on, LeBron.
    So Thursday night featured the basketball equivalent of a wet dream when the Cleveland Cavaliers took on the Miami Heat. Two basketball powerhouses on the same court, playing at a high level, unafraid to … ah, fuck it. Who am I kidding? This game is notable only because of the two superstars involved: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Even more notable was LeBron’s post-game comments, which were obviously inspired by a certain spectator sitting courtside:

    “I just think what Michael Jordan has done for the game has to be recognized some way soon,” James said. “There would be no LeBron James, no Kobe Bryant, no Dwyane Wade if there wasn’t Michael Jordan first.

    “He can’t get the logo, and if he can’t, something has to be done. I feel like no NBA player should wear 23. I’m starting a petition, and I’ve got to get everyone in the NBA to sign it. Now, if I’m not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it.”

    “If you see 23, you think about Michael Jordan,” James said. “You see game-winning shots, you think about Michael Jordan; you see guys fly through the air, you think about Michael Jordan; you see fly kicks, you think about Michael Jordan. He did so much, it has to be recognized, and not just by putting him in the Hall of Fame.”

    Right. I’m sure there was never a conversation with Kobe Bryant about the *ahem* benefits of $witching number$.”

    This whole situation is laughable, and PR-wise it’s definitely a step back for King James. Especially when you consider his recent stance of ‘I’m not talking about my upcoming free agency anymore,’ since he’s perpetuated that situation himself for years now. I don’t have it verbatim (as I heard it on the radio), but Craig Sager’s follow-up question to LeBron’s declaration that he’d be changing his number to ‘6’ was brilliant:

    Sager: So what number will you switch to?
    James: 6.
    Sager: And what team’s jersey will it be on?
    James: We’ll have to wait and see.

    Reading these particular tea leaves makes me think Cleveland is in for a big disappointment come July ’10.

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