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The Roar


Should cities care about LeBron’s decision? The answer is yes

Stephen Curry and LeBron James in the 2018 NBA finals. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Roar Rookie
29th June, 2018

Welcome to the summer of LeBron. If you’ve visited any sports news site (which, if you’re here on The Roar then you have) you’ve likely come across news coverage of LeBron James’ status in the NBA.

He has the option to become a free agent and shop for a new team to play for. Editor’s note: LeBron James declined to take up his player option with the Cavaliers, meaning that he is of now effectively a free agent.

There are others in the NBA in a free agency position this year, but none will have the impact that LeBron’s change of teams would. He’s oft compared to the other basketball stars who made history – Michael Jordan most notably.

Consequently, the question of where he’ll go (or stay) is a huge question mark. Every NBA team cares, of course, but their respective cities should too. Here’s why.

He brings cash to the franchise (which leads to development in the city for the team)
At the end of the day, NBA teams are businesses. Even though they’re called the “Cleveland” Cavaliers, the organisation isn’t run by the city of Cleveland. It is its own organisation that’s run like a separate business.

Still, when a team prospers, its host city experiences some of the benefits. The Milwaukee Bucks, for example, are opening a $524 million venue in the city this year. This means money spent building it there, new businesses opening at the finished location and more people coming in to visit it.

So, how does LeBron factor into this? He tangibly brings in money for the Cavaliers. Merchandise is a simple piece. In fact, about 25 per cent of all merchandise purchased from the Cavs arena during the Finals this year had LeBron’s number, according to the team. It can also be looked at in greater terms, such as franchise value.

According to Forbes, the value of the Miami Heat dropped from $476 million to $355 million the year that LeBron left (2010). That is a really significant blow to The Heat (and consequently to Miami).

He brings people to the city and to the games
Beyond a player’s indirect effects on a city via his effects on a city’s team, there are ways he can make an impact directly. For one, a player like LeBron literally brings people to games.


Across all of his “star” seasons, his presence on a team led to game attendance being 8.23 per cent higher on average. This means that around 8 per cent more people came to NBA games because LeBron was there.

LeBron James

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

And as anyone who’s attended an NBA game knows, you spend money while you’re out, which circulates more money around the city.

Great NBA teams in general cause higher economic success in general, including stronger growth in home prices and employment, among other metrics. This is related to LeBron because NBA teams are made from stars at this point in time.

How many stars a team has (if any at all) has an immense impact on how they can compete. It’s why the Golden State Warriors are nearly unbeatable – they’ve got three.

He brings general prosperity and confidence to the city
This is a more anecdotal measure but one that ESPN reports on because of its importance. Joe Roman, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, was quoted saying, “In the first seven years LeBron was here, he gave business people the confidence to double down and invest…It changed the energy behind the decision-making process.”

It’s nearly impossible to attribute specific business openings to LeBron, but a quote from someone in that position holds weight. The GCP is a Chamber of Commerce governed by 70+ CEOs that sit on its board – these individuals making business decisions based on LeBron’s presence would have a large impact on the area.

It’s obvious that LeBron James will have a major effect on whichever team he signs (or stays) with this summer. He’s declared the greatest of all time (i.e. “GOAT”) in the NBA by many. For similar reasons, the cities hosting NBA teams should care as much as the teams do.