Does LeBron James Make More in Endorsements if he Bolts Cleveland?

There is plenty of anxiety over the fact that LeBron James has not yet announced his intention to accept Cleveland's offer a contract extension. In the interim, Bill Simmons is kicking around once again an idea that has been discussed many times: does LeBron James make more endorsement money if he plays in a major city? Could he accept the mid-level exception from the Nets, Knicks, Bulls, Lakers, Clippers or someone else, and end up having similar income to what he'd make in Cleveland?

Bill Simmons:

I keep writing about this, and everyone in Cleveland keeps sending me hate mail, and I don't really know what else to tell you ... but people around the league swear that there's a clause in LeBron's Nike contract (already worth $100 million) that doubles the money if he plays for an NBA team based in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles AND that some of his other endorsement deals have the same clause. Don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger.

Is that true? Brian Windhorst is as close to the situation as anyone. He covers LeBron James every day for the Akron Beacon-Journal. Here's what he wrote on his blog a few weeks ago (like Simmons, Windhorst won't name a source, which is unfortunate on both counts).

I've only written this about a dozen times, but here does again: LeBron's Nike contract does not have location escalator clauses. He signed the deal for the maximum penny the night before the lottery, a lottery the Bulls, Knicks and Clippers were in. That was three years and three days ago and the deal has four more years to run. Some of his other deals do have such clauses, but even if those endorsement deals tripled they would not cover the difference in him signing with the Nets rather than the Cavs. Sure, you can argue that if he did go there he could get new deals. But that isn't what people are writing. It should be pointed out LeBron hasn't had a new sponsorship deal in more than two years and the word on the street is that Nike is still a long way for breaking even on his products. Don't assume anything as far as his pitchman status goes.

So there you go: competing views! Let's hope we find out the whole truth sometime soon. I suspect we will.

Just for a moment...

Think long-term, big-picture, and into the future. Yes, his NBA employer and his Nike contract will always be major players in his income. But all that other stuff... (think about Jordan with Gatorade, Hanes, and so many others) what about all the other deals he might one day get? And what about the next shoe deal? Over the rest of LeBron's life, if he plays his cards right, those other contracts will be massive.

I am of the opinion that--NBA and Nike contracts aside--playing in New York or Los Angeles would potentially make LeBron James a much bigger star than if he were in a smaller city. I wrote about that a while ago, and people shocked me by disagreeing heartily in the comments.

Have you walked through midtown Manhattan? Did you notice MTV, ABC, CBS, NBC and everyone else has studios there? Tip of the iceberg, my friend.

If you're a short cab ride from the world headquarters of every major-league celebrity-making mechanism (network, ad agency, movie studio, corporate sponsor, etc.) in the modern universe, and your team's local supporters include the most rich, powerful, and famous people in the world--well there are just so many more off-court income opportunities than if you're in somewhere like... Cleveland.

Cleveland's great. Cleveland's grand. Ohio's home for LeBron James. And he is already a huge star from his Ohio home. But as a home base for a celebrity-driven income machine, it just ain't no Big Apple. He could be a bigger star if he were based in New York or Los Angeles, and no one's going to convince me otherwise. And the whole "Michael Jordan was pretty big and he was in Chicago" argument? First of all, that is a huge city compared to Cleveland. And second of all, people overcome obstacles. Earl Boykins made the NBA, and he's 5-5. But just as most point guards with NBA aspirations are advised to be a foot or so taller than Earl, would-be celebrity pitchmen are advised to make their homes in the zip codes of the rich and famous.