According to an anonymous Chinese general manager, LeBron James wanted to play in the CBA last year for US $5 million.
How things change in a year.
Roughly one year ago, the NBA lockout was raging and rumors of a mass overseas player migration were swirling as the work stoppage in the States seemed to have no end in sight. With its huge market, the Chinese Basketball Association and its group of mega-rich owners quickly emerged as one of the favorite rumor mills, with everyone from Enes Kanter and Glen Davis to Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant being linked to some move with a Chinese team.
Concerned with how the sudden influx of NBA-caliber talent — and the potential for an equally sudden exodus if the NBA lockout ended — the CBA abruptly put an end to all of that, passing a rule that forbade teams from signing players under NBA contract while also restricting eligible players from including back-to-the-NBA clauses in their Chinese contracts.
The results of that decision were mixed. While the league enjoyed unprecedented popularity both at home and abroad after attracting J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Aaron Brooks among other high profile NBA players, the individual teams that signed them struggled both in creating profits and achieving the lofty goals they set for themselves in the pre-season.
The aftershocks of NBA-in-the-CBA experience thus has some teams re-thinking their big spending, money burning ways, with such ideas as a salary cap being proposed to get the league back on some sort of stable financial footing.
In a story published yesterday in Chinese basketball newspaper, Basketball Pioneers, several CBA general managers were quoted anonymously saying, among other things, there needs to be more due diligence inside of front offices, first in understanding the global player market, then in calculating a player’s monetary worth.
The debate on how to prevent teams from lighting their own money on fire will continue on, and the article itself is just a small blip in the overall issue. A small blip, that also includes this nugget: According to a separate GM, LeBron James wanted US $5 million to sign in the Middle Kingdom, a figure that upon consideration was ultimately deemed to high by team decision makers.
“Clubs need to be sensible,” said the GM, speaking anonymously. “If there was another big name superstar [who wanted to play in China] and wanted a price that’s too high, then there’s no way a team is going to accept that. Last year, [LeBron] James said he’d come for US $5 million. We couldn’t accept that.”
Whether that number is true or not, or whether the three-time MVP and reigning NBA champion was seriously considering playing in the CBA, is officially unknown. But it it believable? Considering all of the names who were being linked to China, of course it is. And considering what the major companies who back James (see Nike) would have stood to gain by having the best player on the planet play in what is potentially the biggest market on the planet, LBJ-to-China, like Kobe-to-China (which by the way happened before the league stepped in, if you believe Chinese media) was very likely on the table.
LeBron and the Miami Heat will come to China in October to play two pre-season games against the Los Angeles Clippers.