November 12, 2002

Now Showing: LeBron James

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He’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, and The SportingNews. He’s partied with NBA All-Stars, and he’s the target of a bidding war between sneaker-giants Nike and Adidas. And he’s still in high school. Basketball fans, welcome super-prep phenom LeBron James.

Touted by many professional scouts as the country’s best amateur player, James is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the June 2003 NBA Draft if he should decide to forego college. In fact, he most likely would have been the first player selected in this past draft after only his junior year in high school.

The fact of the matter is, this guy is hot property.

And for the 600,000 lucky fans in northeast Ohio, they will soon have the opportunity to welcome the state’s two-time Mr. Basketball into their living rooms for the modest charge of just $4-$7. No, ma’am, LeBron’s not coming over to try your special meatloaf, but for that small fee, you’ll have the privilege of watching him perform acrobatic dunks over your pimply faced, 14-year old high school freshman son on TV.

That’s right, Time-Warner Cable and St. Vincent-St. Mary have agreed in principle to make the team’s home games this season available on pay-per-view on a per game basis.

Sounds crazy? Well, maybe not.

For the past several seasons, the Irish has easily sold out its home arena in Akron, Ohio. After James began to appear on the aforementioned national publications, the demand for tickets went even higher, with scalpers circling the venue and selling tickets for as much as three times of face value.

To put this into perspective for Cornellians, think about the demand for Cornell season hockey tickets. Now square it. No, cube it. Not good at math? Well, imagine having to wait in that atrocious hockey line for two weekends instead of one. Ewww…

Now, I completely understand the business rationale. From a marketing standpoint, this idea is pure genious. With one year remaining before James bolts for greener pastures, Time-Warner and his high school are going to milk the guy for all he’s worth. And James, on the verge of super-stardom, gets even greater exposure.

The school gets more money. The cable goliath gets money. And LeBron gets attention which translates to, well, more money. It sure looks like everyone’s a winner.

But let’s take a step back. Time-Warner expects people to shell out money to watch a high-school basketball game on TV? Granted, one of the 10 players on the court at any given point is arguably the best non-NBA player in the world. But what about those other nine guys? Do people really want to spend their hard earned cash to see nine players throwing up bricks and committing turnovers? Then again, I guess Ohio basketball fans already do that when they go to Cleveland Cavalier games.

Is it really worth paying to watch James completely dominate his competition, though? I love watching slam dunk contests as much as anybody, but I think I’d get tired of watching James repeatedly dunk on his overmatched peers. And there’s one very important fact everyone seems to be forgetting. One year from now, we can all watch James for free on ESPN, either playing at a big-time Division I-A basketball program, or more likely, in the NBA with the big boys. I, for one, can wait that extra year.

Then again, with James, who’s to say fans won’t have to start paying for his NBA games?

Archived article by Alex Ip