A few years ago, it would have sounded like a joke without a punchline but it’s true: Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James is now a partial owner of the Boston Red Sox. El martes, news spread that James and business partner Maverick Carter would be, pending MLB approval, partners in Fenway Sports Group, the company which owns Liverpool FC, the sports network NESN and the Red Sox. While the idea of James helping to guide the future of the historic franchise will require a period of adjustment for fans and media alike, it’s difficult to imagine how this won’t be a positive development for both the team and baseball itself.
Ahora, it’s not surprising at all that James would invest money in a sports franchise. James – whose estimated net worth lies somewhere in the $500m range – has been very clear that his ultimate goal is to one day own an NBA franchise. Él already owned a 2% share in Liverpool, so this is just another step towards his retirement goal.
What is strange though is that James is now a part-owner of the Red Sox specifically. Después de todo, he has spent his entire professional career as a major heavy in the Boston sports scene. With both the Cleveland Cavaliers and then the Miami Heat, he often single-handedly prevented the Boston Celtics from making the NBA finals. When he finally left the Eastern Conference, it was only to team up with the Celtics’ historical rivals, the Lakers. Jaime is also a well-known fan of the New York Yankees, the team whose blood-feud with the Red Sox has provided perhaps baseball’s longest-lasting (y, at times overwrought) storyline.
It was enough that Boston Globe scribe/professional troll Dan Shaughnessy went to Twitter to attack the team for letting James into the ownership group. “Let’s see,” Shaughnessy posted with obvious glee, “what else could the Red Sox do to make local fans hate them?"
Like John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski, Shaughnessy may not have expressed himself well but he may not be wrong. It’s been a rough few years for Boston baseball. A few hours before the news, GQ published a profile on Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts where the star reiterated that he was open to re-signing with Boston before the team traded him, but only at a contract that would have paid him what he wanted.
The article reinforced what many fans already believed: the trade was not something the team was forced to make, but rather a cost-cutting movie. In the wake of the Betts trade, the Red Sox – who had won the World Series in 2018 – quickly descended into baseball irrelevance. They went 62-100 during the abbreviated 2020 baseball season while their television ratings dropped 54%.
And it’s true, hardcore fans won’t take to the concept of an old sports rival suddenly appearing in the owners’ booth alongside John Henry and Tom Werner. A generation of New Englanders have spent large parts of their lives booing (and shouting off-color chants) at the four-time NBA champion. As odd as it was to see Tom Brady play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers it may be even weirder to adjust to LeBron James, Red Sox Royal Rooter.
Whatever short-term backlash that may occur, Fenway Sports Group bringing James into the fold is potentially a huge move for the Red Sox, particularly as the league itself struggles to appeal to a younger audience. Having one of the biggest sports stars in the world as a part-owner of one of baseball’s most high-profile franchises, at this particular moment in time, is a PR boon for MLB in a time when those appear to be in short supply.
Then there’s the other historical aspect to James joining the ownership team. Discussing the move with the media last night, James said, “I think for me and my partner, Maverick, to be the first two Black men to be a part of that ownership group and history of that franchise, I think it’s pretty damn cool.”
That history, por supuesto, is that the Red Sox were the last MLB franchise to integrate, something which has tarnished the team’s reputation ever since. James’s involvement with the franchise should be one more move to distance itself from the shameful racist legacy of former owner Tom Yawkey. Oh, and hey, if it also happens to make the team more appealing to fans from minorities – or maybe even more appealing to potential free agents – why that’s all the better from a financial standpoint.
There will be a lot of talk about what James’ new role with the Red Sox will mean for his legacy and his inevitable future as a major business player in the world of US sports. It also doubles as a gigantic coup for the sport itself. James is one of those rare figures in sports whose presence is transformative in itself and it’s big that he’s coming to a league that is fighting to retain its relevancy during rapidly-changing times. This should end up being a win-win move for all involved.