Bronny James now has a net worth of 4.6 million dollars. It’ll come in handy, I’m sure, as he is a senior in high school with the expenses any high school student might expect. I haven’t mucked around to see what his younger brother has pulled in, but I have joined the millions of people who have viewed both of LeBron’s children stuffing a basketball into a hoop at the Sierra Canyon’s Midnight Madness Dunk-A-Thon.
Impressive, but Bronny’s cash comes from the recent (July, 2021) decision on the part of the NCAA (sued into submission) to grant college athletes the right to be compensated for the use of their Name, Image, or Likeness (NIL). There is not world enough and time to reconstruct the myriad idiocies perpetrated by the NCAA; you may not know, for example, that the NCAA limits the amount of food a university can provide an athlete, or that a college football media guide cannot exceed 208 pages. Do I want to read more than 208 pages about Kentucky basketball? Not much, but, Jeez, who’s counting? The NCAA apparently.
OK, back to basics. College athletes may now be paid for the use of their names and likenesses, and by the commutative property of college sports, recruits are also now free to sign endorsement deals. Just how meaty are these deals? The Detroit Lions’ Josh Paschal’s has a deal with Steckler Pediatric Dentistry that probably doesn’t bring him financial security, but the 42 million Steph Curry earns for wearing shoes and togs designed by Under Armour is roughly ten million dollars more than he earns playing for Golden State
Seven states now allow high school athletes to be compensated as is Johnuel (Boogie) Fland, a 6’2” point guard currently attending Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plans, New York. Fland is currently ranked the 19th most highly sought recruit in the nation. 15 years old, Fland has been signed by Spreadshop, earning a percentage of the income from sale of merchandise and a monthly stipend for posting about Spreadshop on social media.
The dunk-a-thon may have helped move Bronny James from the 45th hottest recruit to the 34th, a more than satisfactory assessment of a high school player’s projected value to a college program, but here’s where NIL and college recruitment bump into some murky territory when the 34th most recruited kid is LeBron James’ son.
Let’s start with that.
You are a college coach. You’ve built a program guided by your style of play. You are Mark Few, we’ll say, at Gonzaga since 1989, head coach since 1999. You’ve moved Gonzaga from relative obscurity to the highest level of college competition. You live and coach in Spokane, Washington. You love your family, fly fishing, and the great outdoors. You’ve cut practice before a big game to make sure you were able to see your son’s church league game. The word your colleagues use to describe you is “balanced”. You aren’t among the top 20 highest paid coaches, but life is good. You’ve recruited players from around the world, talented young players who have developed over three or four years playing for you. You’ve got a strong starting five, returning players, and freshmen and sophomores ready to move up in the next season.
Every coach deals with parents who want their kid to be on the floor. Bronny’s parent is the among the most celebrated and powerful athletes in the world, and not a guy to be taken lightly. To be clear: Wherever he ends up, Bronny James does NOT expect to be on the bench. The moment he signs a National Letter of Intent, the spotlight begins to bake the campus he has chosen. You want hoopla and endless conjecture? You want to be the coach that doesn’t play Bronny James?
There’s another complication absolutely affected by the NIL.
Bronny’s got a deal with Nike and with Beats. The Beats deal doesn’t affect where he plays, but some of the colleges he might consider are not affiliated with Nike. He can’t really go to a college affiliated with another brand. The shoe companies have divvied up college basketball, as a quick trip to two conferences will attest:
Arizona-Nike, Arizona State – Adidas, California – Under Armour, Colorado Under Armour, Oregon – Nike (no surprise), Oregon State – Nike, Stanford – Nike, UCLA Under Armour, USC – Nike, Utah – Under Armour, Washington – Nike, Washington State – Nike
Illinois – Nike, Indiana – Adidas, Iowa – Nike, Maryland – Under Armour, Michigan – Nike, Michigan State – Nike, Minnesota – Nike, Nebraska – Adidas, Northwestern – Under Armour, Ohio State – Nike, Penn State – Nike, Purdue – Nike, Rutgers – Adidas, Wisconsin – Under Armour
Gonzaga is a Nike school, one of three to adopt a protocol recognizing the Workers’ Rights Consortium; that’s the result of hard work by the United Students Against Sweatshops. Still, Bronny and Mark Few? Unlikely.
The Early Division I basketball Letter of Intent Signing Day has already passed. It looks as if Kentucky has scooped up a powerhouse group committed to the Wildcats. Some guess that recruits may admire coach John Caliapari’s willingness to send players on to the NBA after just one year in Lexington; or, maybe they have an endorsement contract with Nike. In any case, the next deadline is May 17th. Claiming a modicum of perspective, Bronny’s decision is hardly the most important issue facing a world in climate crisis. We may see college basketball players’ uniforms festooned with logos like race cars and Phil Mickelson’s golf shirt, but we’ve survived more odious spectacles than that.
On the other hand, I really don’t want to see the starting five sporting uniforms touting Steckler Pediatric Dentistry.