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Believe the hype, not the rumors



Published: Sun, April 28, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



I have no proof of this, but I've heard rumors that the next edition of Webster's dictionary will include the following:

"hype: extravagant promotion or advertising. See James, LeBron."

This is not intended to discredit anyone's assertion that the Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High phenom is the best high school basketball player in the country. In fact, he may be the best high school player ever. That can and will certainly be debated for years.

However, depending on which website or publication one happens to be reading at any given time, we've been told the following in recent days:

UJames is thinking of declaring for the NBA Draft now, and if necessary, suing the league for the right to do so;

UJames is going to play professionally in Europe for one season, for $9 million, and then declare for the NBA Draft;

UJames is going to star in his own sitcom, an updated version of the series "White Shadow" and then declare for the NBA Draft;

UJames is going to play college basketball for x number of season(s) and then declare for the NBA Draft.

OK, number three isn't true but only a slightly more preposterous notion than number four.

And, we've been told that numbers one and two aren't going to happen, either. At least, according to Sonny Vaccaro, the adidas representative who is one of a gaggle of sports apparel bigwigs hoping to get James' signature on a multi-million dollar contract.

One who should know

Vaccaro appeared on the Dan Patrick Show Thursday afternoon on ESPN Radio, where he told the host that James would definitely return to high school for his senior season, and that the story about him playing in Europe for one season was a total fabrication.

Vaccaro, who signed Michael Jordan to a Nike contract almost 20 years ago, said he believes James won't challenge the NBA rule that doesn't allow high school underclassmen to declare for the draft. The reason: James would almost certainly have to force litigation on the league, and Vaccaro said he would expect the league to spend countless millions to convince the courts to maintain the status quo.

Vaccaro also flatly denied he had James already signed to a $20 million endorsement deal, but there shouldn't be much surprise when that contract is signed, probably while James is walking away from the podium on graduation day 2003.

And for those who hold out hope that James will be playing college basketball somewhere -- Ohio State is on his short list -- in November 2003, the NCAA this week approved a proposal that will allow high school seniors to enter the NBA Draft but still retain college eligibility as long as they don't sign with a team or an agent.

So, the telling moment for all the LeBron watchers out there: when James signs an endorsement deal, he must turn pro.

Raising the bar

Vaccaro did raise an interesting point: James even now is raising the bar for already-established professional athletes. Tracy McGrady of the Orlando Magic, for instance, who was also drafted directly out of high school, will have his endorsement contract renegotiated. McGrady is under contract to Vaccaro and adidas.

I'm not sure how you turn down $9 million (although I'd sure like to be given the chance) and honestly, I've not seen anything to suggest the story about James being offered a European deal is even true. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"The Legend" continues to grow.

XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write to him at todor@vindy.com.




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