Monday, July 12, 2010

Yuna Kim and LeBron James Help Charities

Olympic figure skating champion Yuna Kim serves as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and is encouraging more help for Haiti six months after the earthquake that brought sorrow and tragedy to the impoverished country. Kim was one of the most celebrated individuals to make a huge contribution to the UNICEF Haiti efforts shortly after the disaster and now she is back to help bolster the efforts that seem to be waning.

Olympic Champion Kim's appealed:

When the earthquake in Haiti shook the nation to the core, like you, I decided to help. And together, we did help by providing children with food, protection, clean water, medicine and school books. What has already been achieved in Haiti brings hope. But rebuilding homes, schools and lives will take time, and it needs our continued support. Let us not forget the people of Haiti – or the millions of children around the world who need our help the most.

Kim's efforts not only will help the earthquake victims, but they also provide great press for athletes in the face of many negative stories. Kim as a young athlete garners positive press with each step she takes. But of course we all know that is she screws up, she'll make real headlines.

Lebron James Questions

In the United States, the LeBron James team selection decision reveal was televised after the decision itself was discussed ad nauseam in the media in advance. It was an odd bit of media hype over a move that would normally have been reported in the normal course of a radio or TV newscast. Many sports fans thought it was way over the top--a show saturated with ego and drenched in the sickening syrup of American athletic worship. Yet, in a kind of irony the martyr Saint Lawrence (turn me over I'm done on this side) would love, through ads and sponsor contributions, LeBron raised an estimated $2.5 million for Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Of course, many questioned his motives. But it's not exactly drug money in the collection basket is it? $2.5 million in commercial endorsement income is a pretty big sum as charitable events go. Take for example, a very worthwhile celebrity gold tournament like the Bob Hope's Classic. The Classic's charitable contribution averages a little over $1.5 million a year. If LeBron could just move from team to team each year and televise his selection announcement, he might turn into a one-man charitable behemoth.

Legally, James had a right to select his next team based on his employment relationship in the NBA. He was highly criticized for his selection of Miami over Cleveland. No doubt I would feel very different if I was a Cavs fan and I think they have every right to rant and rave about the decision because they must feel like they have been betrayed by a family member.

But, in the interest of fair play, one has to wonder if the Cavaliers had dumped a player with diminishing skills on the same day as LeBron's decision, would it have gotten a glance from critics? As long as a team is able to dump its players for any reason, players should be allowed to move as well. LeBron had a legal right to select a team based on whatever criteria he wanted to use. It wasn't pretty in Cleveland and I feel for the fans there. If Jordan had done the same thing here in Chicago, it would not have made fans here happy either.

In terms of moral behavior, the team switch might seem wrong to many fans who consider team loyalty a moral issue. But again, if we are honest with ourselves, we all know that there are several loyalty angles that come under scrutiny: teams can get rid of players (fans love) to reduce payroll etc.; players can move on to greener pastures; and fans can turn against players who are giving 100% (but something goes wrong in their performance). Not a new phenomena folks, read the Merkle story sometime. In that case the fans and press were nasty, the club was loyal. Overall, it would seem that loyalty can turn on a dime with fans, teams and players.

If the moral discussion turns to the question of charity, charitable motives and charitable actions of someone who probably makes more money in a minute than most make in a week, well that's a different discussion altogether--one that I hope LeBron and everyone else has frequently with God. If pundits will not be satisfied until huge sums come directly from LeBron's pocket to others with less, well we don't really know how much he has doled out in past. Not all charity is a charitable contribution.

There are cases of athletes bankrupting themselves with over-generous contributions to friends and charities. But from a "bigger they are, the harder they fall" perspective, he's probably getting a lot of advice against being too generous with anyone right now as his earnings are rising. I think many super-rich pay more attention to charity after they have amassed super huge amounts and those amounts are passively earning more than they ever could themselves. Oh the time value of money is such a great concept if you have both time and money!

I suppose the public would feel a little better if LeBron was getting "less is more" advice on the size of his next house. "Don't go too big LeBron--keep it to one bowling alley this time out." Yet by most accounts, even though LeBron is one big athlete, his house in Akron is less than half the size of skinny Bill Gates' home. Go figure! Of course, Bill has moved from what many would call a hated computer mogul to a begetter of what presumably is one of the largest foundations out to change the world for the better. Go Bill, Go.

But consider that LeBron is only 25 years old. History tells us that many of the most admired and richest people in America didn't become philanthropic until they were much older. If you think 25 is old enough to manage the complex world that is LeBron James, you probably haven't had any kids that age (or you are just a perfect human being). The "kid in the candy store" syndrome must be pretty strong when you are very young and have tens of millions coming in. Heck, I count myself lucky that I still have teeth left after years of candy purchases supported by my lawn care business that grossed me $1.50 per lawn with my dad's trusty Sears lawn mower. The sweet smell of cut grass was the smell of money in those days.

Perhaps we should hold off any judgments for now. We really don't know how much he's given away anyway. He's done much good with the ESPN show and usually good deeds seem to have a way of multiplying. He's got a long way to catch up with Bill Gates, but then even top NBA salaries and fees from expensive basketball shoes and clothing will never match the cash spent on software.

My advice to LeBron right now would be go a little smaller on the bling and tell your critics you are done on one side and they can turn you over. Coming from a good Catholic High School, I think LeBron would appreciate the humor.

One day he may just find a nice quiet shack on the beach will be all he needs along with a huge charitable remainder trust to cover the bumps in the road.

I suppose LeBron's move is all kind of moot point anyway, we all know the Bulls are going to win the championship next year.

Copyright 2009, Sporting Chance Press publisher of Maddie Takes the Ice and other fine books.

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