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by Vault Careers | July 01, 2010


With the current economic and unemployment conditions, it's unlikely that most of us will find ourselves in the kind of position LeBron James is in right now—aside, perhaps, from those working on Wall Street. A free agent, in case you hadn't heard, LeBron is currently being wooed by many of the big names in pro basketball (and the Nets!), with astronomical sums of money on offer for his skills.

LeBron JamesCNBC's Darren Rovell wrote an interesting piece on the financial implications of LeBron's impending move, weighing up the likely costs and benefits to each of the teams courting him, and attempting to figure out which of them stood to gain financially once they'd met his salary expectations.

Having completed the run-down—which found that the Knicks and the Nets had the most to gain financially by bringing James in—Rovell saved his most interesting observation for the very end of his blog: "LeBron cares about the value of the teams to him, not the value of his presence to the teams. If he cared about the latter, he'd wind up in New York or New Jersey next season."

That observation is likely true of many in the workforce today, and represents one of the inherent conflicts at the heart of business and hiring: almost everyone, first and foremost, is out to do as well as they can for themselves, with their employer's needs coming a distinct second. Perhaps that's exactly as it should be: a careerist who isn't looking out for their own best interests certainly won't find anyone else in the corporate world to do it for them. But what if money was off the table? Assuming that all teams were capable of making LeBron the same offer, what factors then come into play for him—and for the rest of us?


Obviously location is also a bigger factor for LeBron than for many: he can go almost anywhere with a pro hoops team, while those in, say, the financial sector are most likely to end up living somewhere in the greater New York area. So let's scratch that as a consideration and move on to…

The ability to make an impact

This factor likely comes down to how much of a challenge you want in your working life. Given the choice, most people would join a successful team or company rather than a failing one. But every once in a while, the opportunity to transform a company comes along. Arguably that's something James could achieve in New York—Rovell suggests he's almost single-handedly electrify a jaded public into believing in their local team. Given that kind of incentive, who could turn that kind of opportunity down?

Bragging rights

OK, so you don't get a ring for working for the top law or consulting firm in the country, but prestige is still a major issue for many people when it comes to choosing an employer. For LeBron, that might be the team with the most titles or—more likely—the most chance of winning one while he's there.


What do you want to do with your career? Does the organization you're talking to share those ambitions and seem like a place where you'll be able to make them happen? In LeBron's case, simply trying to sign him up might be seen as a sign of that, but there's significantly more to it than that. As Rovell's piece makes clear, there's clearly a lot of money to be made—for some teams—by securing LeBron's signature. But whether they're genuinely interested in titles—something that takes a team--or using his appeal just to turn a profit could make all the difference.

Of course, whether LeBron is as interested in winning titles as he is in getting the best financial deal for himself is another story entirely…and one that too many employers will ruefully acknowledge can be a major risk when seeking out high-priced talent.

--Posted by Phil Stott,


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