$21,000 an hour. That’s what Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James makes on the basketball court in salary. Endorsement money takes his income to a stratospheric level: According to one calculation, he makes more than $40 million a year, meaning James is one of the wealthiest athletes in the world. Cut to last night’s press conference – the one where James had to talk about his team’s upset loss to the Boston Celtics; the one where James looked like he had just lost a loved one or worse.
All of Cleveland seems to be in mourning. James’ dour demeanor was topped by two Cleveland Plain Dealer sportswriters, who – in the quiet din of a Boston locker room – acted as if the Cavaliers’ loss was the most shocking thing to happen since Watergate. Sports pundits in Cleveland (and James’ fans around the world) are agonizing over the dent – the big, big dent – in their idol’s invincibility. But they and James should pay attention to the proverb that has been around for ages: Money and fame can’t buy you happiness. Even “winning it all” is ephemeral. James had a season to remember: Another MVP award; another series of games that excited kids and adults alike. My 8-year-old son thinks James is one of the best NBA players in history. But before my son went to bed last night, this is what he said after watching the Cavs’ and Celtics’ post-game press conferences: “LeBron is probably crying.”
Maybe. If tears did fall, that was OK. James is only 25 years old. He has lots of years left in his career. What if he never wins an NBA title? One day, James may still give the kind of college commencement address that Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke gave the other day – the one where Bernanke said that money doesn’t buy happiness. James might take heed, as well, to the million-dollar lottery winner name Evelyn Adams, who – very briefly – made as much money as LeBron makes. Adams lost all her wealth.
“Winning the lottery,” Adams said, “isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.”
For James, though, the quest will go on. He wants to earn a billion dollars and join Tiger Woods in the rarified earnings category. It’s another quest that James’ fans will undoubtedly follow with interest.