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LeBron’s secret: he patiently listens to Buffett

LeBron’s secret: he patiently listens to Buffett
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First Published: Fri, Jun 08 2007. 01 09 AM IST
Updated: Fri, Jun 08 2007. 01 09 AM IST
You have to admit that LeBron James and Warren Buffett are among the oddest couples since, well, a pair of guys named Felix and Oscar.
For one, LeBron is 22 and Buffett is 76. It’s not as if they instant message about the latest 50 Cent release.
Furthermore, Buffett, who once drove a car with the licence plate “THRIFTY”, lives in the same home that he bought in 1958 for $31,500 (Rs12,91,500). LeBron, meantime, is building a 35,000 sq. ft mansion, which, according to the Akron Beacon Journal, will include a six-car garage, an elevator, theatre, bowling alley, casino and barber shop.
Differences aside, they are pals who speak glowingly of one another.
LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ All-Star forward, might increase his $25 million (Rs102.5 crore) in annual endorsement contracts by 40% with a National Basketball Association championship, according to sports marketing executives.
The 22-year-old athlete, who was drafted out of an Akron, Ohio, high school four years ago, is leading his hometown team into the finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
The Cavaliers’ first NBA championship would cement James’s public image as a champion and may increase his sponsorship take by about $10 million, said Bob Dorfman, executive vice-president of San Francisco-based Pickett Advertising.
“It’s that next step of becoming the ultimate winner and getting the ring,” Dorfman said. “That kind of legitimizes yourself with the casual fan. He’s doing real well already and could be looking at another eight figures.”
Before entering the NBA, James signed a seven-year, $90 million contract with Nike Inc., the world’s largest athletic- shoe maker, and a five-year, $5 million deal with Upper Deck Co. for its trading cards and sports collectibles. Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles in the 1990s, is a pitchman for both companies as well.
James also has endorsement contracts with Coca-Cola Co.’s Powerade and Sprite brands, and Cadbury Schweppes Plc.’s Bubblicious gum. Last year, he became the first NBA player to advertise products for Microsoft Corp., the world’s biggest software maker.
James is making more in endorsements than any NBA player, according to Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing. Doug Shabelman, president of the Evanston, Illinois-based company, said James, with an NBA title, could “easily” add another $10 million in endorsements if he wants to build his portfolio.
LeBron flew to Omaha, Nebraska, to dine with Buffett before the season. LeBron had a cheeseburger and fries. And, luckily for his Cavaliers teammates, who open their first National Basketball Association Finals on Friday morning (IST) in San Antonio, he digested the free advice, too.
“He taught me about patience,” LeBron says of Buffett, who, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Too many of today’s young athletes, especially the ultra- talented, ultra-wealthy kind, don’t see patience as virtue. To them it’s a character flaw.
Contrary to popular belief, LeBron’s greatest attributes aren’t his size and speed, although he has both in abundance.
What makes LeBron unique is that he combines raw ability with a willingness to listen and learn.
LeBron’s ascension to “Jordanesque,” the word used by Michael Jordan’s former teammate, Steve Kerr, has more to do with his mindset than anything else.
No forced shots.
When open, LeBron shoots.
When guarded, he passes.
Sounds easy. It isn’t.
Witness Kobe Bryant, who still equates shots taken with a player’s worth.
“You do have to be patient,” says Cavaliers owner and Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert. “For LeBron to have that kind of ability at this age is another tribute to him.”
Over the course of more than 40 years, Buffett built Berkshire Hathaway Inc. from a failing textile maker into a holding company with a market value of $168 billion. LeBron transformed a moribund franchise into a championship contender.
LeBron understands that value, in sports, anyway, is derived from winning games and rings, not scoring titles or All- Star appearances.
In a 2005 PBS special, Buffett and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates spend the day imparting wisdom to students and faculty from the University of Nebraska’s College of Business Administration.
While there are a number of how-to basketball videos out there, players would be wise to watch “Buffett & Gates Go Back to School,” in which the world’s richest men offer glimpses into their business philosophies.
Buffett says he believes in his underlings. He tells them so. If they underperform, he encourages them to learn from the mistakes and do better.
Sounds a lot like LeBron, who chatted with rookie teammate Daniel Gibson, a second-round draft pick, prior to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final against the Detroit Pistons on 31 May. Having scored 48 points in the previous game, including 29 of the final 30, and knowing the Pistons would adjust their defense accordingly, LeBron thought a pep talk was in order.
LeBron told the 21-year-old Gibson—and I’m paraphrasing here—that he wanted him to shoot. Don’t hesitate, LeBron told him. Don’t think. Don’t worry. Don’t second-guess. Just let it fly.
“When a guy tells you that, you step to it with a lot of confidence and knock it down for him,” said Gibson, who finished with a game-high 31 points in the series-clinching win. “From Day One, LeBron has been in my corner.”
LeBron made his intentions known from the opening of training camp.
It was LeBron who suggested the Cavs chant, “One, Two, Three, Championship,” in team huddles.
He wanted the others to know, unmistakably, what his expectations were.
There’s a photograph LeBron attached to his locker. It’s a picture of him dunking on San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, whose resume includes two Most Valuable Player Awards and three championships.
The play occurred during Cleveland’s second game of the season. It was the franchise’s first win in San Antonio since 1988. LeBron kept it, emphasizing to his teammates that they belong alongside—if not above—the elite players and teams in the NBA.
Las Vegas oddmakers have installed the Spurs as a 5-to-1 favorite to win their fourth championship since 1999.
Before you plunk down your money, keep in mind that the Cavaliers won both meetings with the Spurs this season.
Normally, what happened months ago in the regular season has no meaning at this first-to-win-four juncture.
But, as his friendship with Buffett shows, nothing about LeBron is normal.
Erik Matuszewski of Bloomberg contributed to this story.
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First Published: Fri, Jun 08 2007. 01 09 AM IST
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