Lebron James: Doing business courtside at JPJ


Lebron JamesJPJ was abuzz when Lebron James appeared on the big screen at JPJ during an early media timeout early in the UVA-Duke megagame last night.

Wow, King James is here.

Folks had already seen former Duke star Grant Hill and his father, NFL Hall of Famer Calvin Hill.

Author John Grisham was in his usual seat on the front row. UVA legend Ralph Sampson was in the house, as is custom.

But … LBJ.

How cool, right? James is such a fan, he took a plane to Charlottesville on a night off to watch a college basketball game.

Obviously, he was there to see the Duke kids, but that’s OK.

The image lingered on the big screen for several seconds, and oddly, James looked a bit uncomfortable, from his seat behind the basket on the visiting-team bench end, right in front of the UVA band.

No worries there, though. Charlottesville is used to celebrities, and folks here don’t bother the famous.

We’re used to seeing The Rock at Gold’s Gym, Sissy Spacek at the grocery store, Katie Couric eating lunch on The Corner.

Folks weren’t going to try to line up at halftime for selfies with the King and whoever that was beside him.

It was his Los Angeles Lakers teammate, Rajon Rondo, for the record.

If you’re an NBA League Pass nerd, you would have noticed Rondo.

You might not have noticed Rich Paul, James’ agent.

If you had, you’d have started thinking, So, that’s what this is about.

James didn’t fly down to Charlottesville on an off-night just to watch a basketball game.

This was a recruiting trip, just like when a college coach goes to a high-school gym to watch a stud recruit, to let everybody know, including the kid, We want you.

James and Paul were there to connect, in a manner of speaking, with Zion Williamson, and to a lesser extent, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, the three Duke one-and-dones, whose sublime play led the Blue Devils to an 81-71 win over the ‘Hoos last night.

Williamson, Barrett and Reddish are projected top 5 picks in the June NBA draft.

As such, they’re going to need representation, though not as much just to sign their first NBA contracts.

The current labor deal in place has things set pretty straightforward for rookies. Rookies are slotted by where they’re taken in the draft, and the terms of their deals are set for their first year, second year, the option for their third year, the fourth, the fifth.

The money to be made comes years down the road, in terms of the NBA compensation.

Honestly, you could do it yourself, with some help from Google.

Where you need an agent is to navigate your way through the other ways to make money from being an NBA player.

Credit to James here for having fleshed that side of things out for himself.

He’s no dumb jock, at all. Lebron James is a brand, and he controls his brand as well as anybody this side of Michael Jordan, maybe even including Michael Jordan.

Rich Paul is his right-hand man. The two met when James was in high school, Paul selling jerseys out of the trunk of his car, James, the phenom, on his way to superstardom.

Paul’s client list – and, come on, we can call it LBJ’s client list, because Lebron’s the draw – has grown to include former Sixers star Ben Simmons, Washington Wizards supermax star John Wall, and soon-to-be-former New Orleans Pelicans megastar Anthony Davis, who, you might have heard, recently tried to engineer himself into being traded to Los Angeles to be paired with James.

Which gets us back to courtside at JPJ last night. Sign with us, kids, was the message from James, without him needing to say a single word, just sitting there, under the basket, in a bright red hoodie, pretending that he didn’t want to be noticed.

Going a step further, and this is where I need to interject that I sit on media row at UVA games at JPJ, and, odd thing about media row at college games, but the seating chart for our section also lists out any NBA scouts who might be in attendance, because they sit there with us.

The teams represented by scouts last night at JPJ included the ones you’d expect to be in the house for a game with three potential top 5 picks – the likes of Cleveland, Phoenix, the New York Knicks, teams at the bottom of the NBA standings, thus the most likely to have a lottery pick in June, and if you’re in the lottery, you have a chance to win the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes, the consolation prize being, Barrett, who’s pretty damn good as a consolation prize, if he can shoot threes the way he did last night, on top of his ability to get to the rim off the dribble.

Also represented on press row last night: the Los Angeles Lakers, who had two scouts in attendance.

Odd, that, because the Lakers, after a solid start, are currently just two games out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, and that’s largely because James missed 18 games following a groin injury suffered on Christmas Day, in a win over defending NBA champ Golden State that, at that time, had pulled the Lakers to within two and a half games of the top spot out West.

Presumably, the Lakers, with James back in the lineup, are a playoff team, but …

They’re also the Lakers, and the NBA is a business.

How else did L.A. land Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a trade and end up with the top pick in the draft that turned into Magic Johnson back in the ‘70s, and land Shaquille O’Neal in a trade and have Kobe Bryant fall into their laps in the ‘90s?

Zion Williamson isn’t going to end up in Memphis, is what I’m saying here.

So, last night, sure, it was cool, for JPJ fans. Lebron James was in the house.

But, it was also a bit icky, because, it was pure business.

Column by Chris Graham



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