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May 20, 2003

Fame Now, Fortune Later
By Dan Patrick

LeBron James has been allowed to seek fame in high school but not fortune. Now, that did not stop the people around him from actually gaining fortune. Whether it's his high school, the promoters, the shoe companies, there are a lot of people cashing in on this young athlete.

Whether it's his high school, the promoters, the shoe companies, there are a lot of people cashing in on this young athlete.

I'm sure ESPN sold ads during the two James high school games that we broadcast recently. But when James received two throwback jerseys in exchange for a quick photograph, he was declared ineligible for the rest of his high school season.

James has been handed things before -- limo rides and jets to games. And his school has benefited from him financially all season. But as soon he takes something, he's out. The Ohio Athletic Association says he's all done. It's ridiculous.

On Friday, Mike Dunleavy Jr. admitted that he got favors when he was at Duke. It's not uncommon for an athlete to bring his car in to be serviced and not get charged full price. Not every meal comes with a bill. Theses athletes are operating under the notion that they can't benefit or profit from their status, that they can't cash in on their jump shot but everyone else can, but things still trickle in.

It's laughable to single out LeBron James. You could go to any college or high school and see it happening all the time. There is a lot of heat and focus on James, so he gets hit hard for this little transgression. Adidas gave his school a lot of product as they courted him. Are we saying none of that stuff got to James? Or that what he got was worth less that $100? Please.

You can say he should have known better. But when you're in his position, how do you know the difference between all of the stuff that gets put in your hands along the way -- these sneakers are OK but these jerseys constitute a problem? And we're still looking into the Hummer. You get the feeling that they hung him on the jerseys because they can't get to the bottom of who gave him the car. Philanthropy stops well short of a $50,000 vehicle.

The key is that once he found out there was a problem, he gave the jerseys back. This is a non-story except that it points out some more of the contradictions and craziness that usually surface when an exceptional athlete emerges.

This is all just hypocritical exploitation of LeBron James. Once he gets an agent, a pro contract, a lawyer and an accountant, no one will be able to do this kind of stuff to him. And he will be able to afford all of the throwback jersey he wants.

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