Friday , Aug , 01 , 2008 C.Y. Ellis

LeBron James to Greece in 2010: Why It’s Not Impossible

LeBron James to Greece in 2010: Why It's Not ImpossibleI’m normally the first to call shenanigans when faced with an unfounded rumour, but here’s one worth humouring for a nanosecond or two.  For those who haven’t heard, the word coming from Greece is that Athenian powerhouse Olympiakos, who recently lured Josh Childress across the pond,  are planning to make a run at LeBron James in 2010.

Pointless story, right?  Well, yes.  Probably.

I suppose my background offers me a little more insight into the situation than your average bear.  You see, I used to be Greek.  Now, however, I bathe daily and have two visibly distinct eyebrows.  I jest, but it’s such a perception of Greece as a second-world nation populated by hunter-gatherers and soccer hooligans that has helped ensure that until recently only bench-warmers and has-beens have signed deals in the Mediterranean, and even then only when all viable options for staying Stateside have been exhausted. 

I may have opted to make my home outside of my homeland, but that’s not to say that it’s completely without its charms.  Modern plumbing may not be one of them (in most bathrooms, toilet paper has to be tossed in the trash; flushing it will clog the system), but with the kind of cash Olympiakos is purportedly prepared to proffer, King James may manage to overlook the deficiencies in the country’s, uh, thrones.

I imagine that most of you out there doubt that the club is ready to pony up the sort of paper necessary to tempt LBJ.   If my time living in Greece taught me anything, however, it’s that wealthy Hellenes are, almost without exception, passionate to the point of eccentricity.  Consequently, I wouldn’t put anything past the Aggelopoulos (an-ghell-op-oo-loss) brothers, the billionaire owners of Olympiakos and two of the biggest hoopheads in Greece, a country where basketball is the national sport and "friendly" discussions thereof regularly lead to felony assaults.

Talking of which, it’s difficult to convey the place hoops holds in Greek culture with mere words, but a brief anecdote should give you some idea.  Last week, I stayed in the Piraias suburb of Athens at my aunt’s place, a small, square house about five minutes from the “Peace and Friendship Stadium” in which Olympiakos play.  Seeing the spotless interior of the house, I asked my aunt why they hadn’t painted over the numerous graffiti that scarred the front of the building.  She pointed out that some of the scribblings had, in fact, been covered with whitewash, although the largest one was left untouched.  I again asked why that was.

She explained that fans of Panathinaikos, a rival club, had painted their motto on the house, but before they could get rid of it an Olympiakos group had covered it with their own. Being Olympiakos die-hards themselves, they decided to leave the façade as it was.  Not only was my fifty-five-year-old aunt fan enough to leave her home adorned with a crudely-drawn Olympiakos logo and several curse-filled exhortations, but she was also able to name Scoonie Penn, Qyntel Woods and Roy Tarpley as former players.  Before I could retrieve my jaw from the lemon-scented floor of the cramped kitchen, she went on to detail the various reasons Josh Childress would have difficulties adapting to Euroleague defences.  Then she cooked calamari.  With six million more like her in the city, it’s no wonder Greek club owners are willing to dig deep to bring big names on board, even knowing that they’ll likely never recoup their investment. 

A life away from the U.S. of A. may be a tough sell to a bona fide superstar, but the opportunity to make a tax-free $40 million for thirty-odd games would force LeBron to consider setting up shop in the birthplace of democracy.  Even in a country where gas will set you back over seven bucks a gallon, LeBron can leave his Hummer idling all day and still be swimming in Scrooge McDuck-type cash.  Hell, he could dip the truck in platinum and have enough left over to bribe the government to rename the country "The People’s Republic of LeBronia".

If you were expecting a grand conclusion at the end of all this, I apologise.  I honestly don’t know if Olympiakos has a serious shot at signing LeBron, and I don’t know if any amount of money would convince him to head to Europe.  What I will say, however, is this: It’s no longer a question of if a top-ten player would ever leave the league for a blockbuster payday abroad; it’s a matter of when.