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Lebron James: Global Superstar or US Phenomenon?

If you were to ask basketball fans; “who is currently the best player in the NBA?” the likely answer would be Lebron James. A quick glance at his stats for the season shows why: 29.7 points per game, 8.6 assists per game and 7.3 rebounds per game, impressive numbers. Basketball is, however, much more than a numbers game and the positive effect Lebron has on the Cavs when he plays is intangible. His teammates show increased confidence levels and there is an extra buzz amongst spectators when he takes to the floor. Furthermore the sight of his name on the team sheet strikes fear into the hearts of opposing players. Whilst Cleveland is certainly not a one-man team, there is no doubt that they are a different proposition without their star man.

Lebron goes airborne for the dunk (This image is the property of NBA.com)

The effect the man nicknamed ‘King James’ has had on the franchise since he joined straight out of high school at the beginning of the 2003-2004 season is astounding. In the five seasons before James joined the Cavs, they failed to muster a single winning season and were frankly not even close to doing so. Their combined record over this period was a dismal 130-248. During the reign of King James, the improvement has been drastic. In every season bar Lebron’s rookie year, they have had a winning record and their steady improvement culminated this season in a highly impressive 66-16, the best record in the NBA. It remains to be seen whether this will translate in to playoff success.

So as we can see, the Akron born star is a genuine elite performer and his talent is beyond doubt, but has he transcended the sport and become a bona fide global superstar? There is no doubt that he is a big deal in the US where he was a nationally renowned figure even in high school. Endorsement deals with the likes of Nike, Sprite and Glaceau have helped boost his profile and made him a very wealthy man in the process but if you stopped people in the street in say the UK, Germany, France or China, how many people would know who he is?

Basketball has perhaps only ever had one true superstar, the great Michael Jordan. He singlehandedly gave the game a global presence and the vast majority of people know exactly who he is. A one-man marketing machine that even Bill Cosby must have envied, Jordan’s fame was undoubtedly all consuming. Who can forget the cardboard figure of the Bulls legend being used to ward off burglars in Home Alone!? Yes, he is the greatest player to ever play the game but there are many who believe that Lebron could go on to emulate and maybe even surpass the great one himself, so why is his fame much less widespread?

It is hard to put your finger on exactly why but it possibly owes to the fact that basketball is, to a great extent, still a US-centric sport. The influx of top level foreign players in to the NBA in the last 10 years or so (Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Yau Ming and Manu Ginobili amongst others) has helped popularise the game in other territories and the NBA is actively trying to bring the game to new fan bases, the now annual pre-season game at London’s O2 arena showing their commitment in this regard. Whilst this has had some success, the NBA still lacks the global exposure of football’s Premier League or golf’s PGA tour and consequently, Lebron James, whilst arguably more talented than David Beckham and Tiger Woods, will most likely never achieve their level of fame on a global scale.

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Categories: Basketball
  1. Anonymous
    February 27, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    i agree

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