Nearly two years ago, Aaron and Eric Goodwin met with a group of NBA executives shortly before the 2003 NBA Draft. They had just been hired as the agents for LeBron James and they wanted to explain their marketing strategy to the league's decision-makers. They had plenty of big ideas to offer, but their most important message that day involved patience, that above all, even if their client might some day rival Michael Jordan's stature as the face of the league, that he was not going to be overexposed. It was a sensible plan for such a famous teenager, but I bet the NBA wouldn't mind if the Goodwins got James more face time these days.
The league has been immersed in a wave of bad publicity, the likes of which it hasn't seen in more than two decades. And no amount of feel-good stories about the Suns, the Sonics and the South Beach success of Shaq and his new sidekick Dwyane Wade can wash away the stains.
Consider the plight of Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony. This weekend's All-Star game is being held in his home arena -- Denver's Pepsi Center -- yet the face of the franchise is not good enough to be in the game. Instead, he's been trailed all season by stories of bar fights, drug possession and appearances in DVDs advocating the proper way to handle "snitches." But that's just a few of the NBA's latest woes that a little more exposure for James would help ease. Undoubtedly, commissioner David Stern would love to hear more sportscasters and talk-show hosts trumpet the greatness of James and rant less about Ron Artest's suspension in Indiana, Rafer Alston's run-ins with coach Sam Mitchell in Toronto or Darius Miles cussing out coach Mo Cheeks in Portland.
But right now the public is getting little more of James than any other superstar, mostly through nationally televised games, commercials and league-sponsored advertisements. And no matter how much the league struggles with its image, the Goodwins have shown no interest in encouraging James to expand his public persona. The philosophy could change, but after a year in which James passed on chances to do Letterman and Oprah, it will be a slow change at best.
Interviews with print media outlets are hard to come by as well. The Goodwins' staff sifts through all the interview requests the Cavaliers receive for James and decides which ones are worth doing. And those fortunate enough to get time with James shouldn't expect much. SI recently spent 10 to 15 minutes with him for a lengthy feature in this week's issue. For perspective, magazine writers often spend several hours with a subject before completing a story with that kind of play.
When asked about the need to harness the publicity around James, Aaron Goodwin explains, "Our focus is to make sure he's the first LeBron James and not the second Michael Jordan. Obviously, Michael is the model for this business, but LeBron's career has to unfold in whatever way LeBron takes it. When Michael became a spokesman for the league, he was in his sixth year. People forget that. LeBron is only in his second year. He understands the business but right now he's focusing on being a basketball player."