UPDATED 1/15/2007: Obviously with our post about Wataru Misaka and the Chicago Japanese League, we now know that Chicago, indeed, played a big role Asian American basketball. However, by now times may have changed and the leagues we know about are run by Filipinos and IndoPak/Asians. Maybe the LBJ camp selected Chicago because of A-Mac's online history project? Great work, A-Mac, and apologies to the Chicagoans!Our beloved beacon of basketball brouhaha, TrueHoop.com, reported earlier on Tuesday in a line item that LeBron James just "announced" a promotional deal with Microsoft, so I had no choice but to drop everything and embark on a writeup which I was hoping could wait until the holidays.
I put "announced" in quotation marks because this is actually pretty old news. Microsoft has sponsored LBJ's Bike-A-Thon in the past and there's even an insightful transcription (scroll to the middle of the page) of LeBron's budding relationship with Microsoft, through a dialogue between Maverick Carter and a Microsoft executive at an advertising conference not too long ago in late September.
In fact, as you might remember from our dreamleague-wide posts (before we had this blog) on Nov. 27 entitled Chinese Youth with Skillz for LeBron Commercial (scroll almost all the way down), LeBron has been scouring the country for a male Chinese kid age 10-14 with good basketball skills to go one-on-one in his forthcoming commercial with Microsoft.
Bloggers, commenters, and people in general might be scratching their heads on this one, but if you peel the onion, you'll see that the LeBron-Microsoft connection makes a lot of sense. More on this in a few paragraphs.
On Nov. 20, we got a random email with a subject line "casting national cingular commercial". I immediately tuned it out as spam and didn't look at it for another couple days until I was catching up on my inbox. The email went like this (all small caps retained)...
hi there, my name is lindsay...i work in los angeles with casting director joe blake. we're casting a national cingular commercial this month and we're looking for 10-14 yr old chinese boys who are good at basketball. good enough to play up against lebron james in the commercial (he is an NBA player and will be playing with the chosen boy). the client is looking for kids in the chicago area and i was hoping that you might be able to help point me in the right direction as to who to talk to, what basketball leagues with chinese boys are in chicago, etc... its a fantastic opportunity for these kids, getting paid, being in a national commercial and getting to play basketball with a NBC [sic] star! i appreciate ANY help. feel free to email me or call me anytime today..."I immediately called and discovered they were thinking about coming to the Bay Area, but needed urgent help with Chicago, as they were having auditions that weekend. Oh, and they had found dreamleague via Google. I told them I knew a few Chicago-based Asian basketball groups, but would have better luck if they were coming to the Bay Area, since we have a vast network of Asian youth basketball organizations unlike anywhere else except perhaps LA.
A week passed by and now they were seriously considering flying up here to take a look at some kids, if they could find around 7 to 10 of them. Lindsay referred me to a Katie Taylor, who was apparently working closely with Blake Casting. She clarified that the commercial was indeed for Microsoft and not Cingular, and after a few back-and-forths, she confirmed they were looking for not only a kid who looks Chinese, but who is genetically Chinese. As I will explain soon, this should come as no surprise.
I called around and found a few candidates from San Jose to San Francisco. Katie was very gracious in all of my proactive help in calling people left and right. Need I explain why I volunteered my time on this? It's funny, some of the parents and contacts I talked with weren't quite on the same page. If someone from as prestigious a group as the LeBron camp randomly calls asking for help, it's in my best interests to lend a hand -- maybe both hands! -- just in case it opens a door to some other magical opportunity neither of us could have ever dreamed. Plus, it's LeBron James. Let's enjoy the ride. Isn't this what life is all about?
After a few days, Katie disclosed that they weren't coming to SF anymore because there just wasn't enough critical mass of candidates to justify the trip. The minimum requirement of kids now all of a sudden got bumped up to 15. I think we had about 6 or 7 within that short timeframe of 72 hours. Oh well, as you'll see, I think they may have made a mistake on that one.
So Katie gave some quick instructions about shooting some home-made film and emailing it to her. One of the non-techie moms was apprehensive about that, so I called her directly and said why don't you come up to the gym by my house and I'll take a few clips of her son, upload it to YouTube just like I always do with my daughter's stuff. I had no idea what to expect. This mom sounded a little eccentric or happy-go-lucky, for lack of better words, and I thought to myself, well, this could very well be a colossal waste of time if she has no idea how skilled (or unskilled) at basketball her son is.
My stereotype of eccentric moms was instantly shattered. Her son Jonathan, only 13 years old, was awesome. You can read all the descriptions of this kid by doing a search on YouTube for "jonathanlo lbjcommercial". There are about 20 clips or so of him doing various moves, including ones made famous by Jordan and, of course, LBJ.
Unfortunately, it was late Wednesday night when I took the clips and my Thursdays are pretty shot scheduling the weekly games for seven leagues consisting of 75 teams, so I didn't get a chance to post the videos to YouTube until Friday morning, and by then it might have been too late.
Here was Katie's response to the clips of Jonathan:
"You are right...Jonathan is pretty amazing..i did just send the video off to the producer for their meeting....he did tell me they are already pretty set on a kid we found in Chicago, but they are considering backups just incase....with these amateur sports eligibility rules, who knows..i will let you know if anything comes about."Don't know why for their auditions they chose Chicago, that hotbed of a Chinese community there, world-famous for its Chinatown!
Just a twist of fate, I guess. I'll let you know if Jonathan gets lucky.
So anyways, Microsoft has already been working with LBJ's Bike-A-Thon in Akron, an event in which I must report that -- of all people -- Hook Mitchell attended as one of the celebrity athlete bike riders in 2005. Hook and dreamleague have crossed paths on numerous occasions. When I attended Le-Po's camp back in August, I heard a vague rumor that something bad happened to Hook recently. His website has been down and I haven't heard from anyone else about him, so I just hope he's okay.
Back to LeBron, I wonder how he got in bed with Microsoft? The aforementioned advertising conference transcript gives some hints:
"MAVERICK CARTER: So LeBron understands that he's a star, people know him, he makes a lot of money, so he has an opportunity to do things that a person like myself couldn't do, because just with his name and being somewhere he can give back. So he understands that position and wants to give back to kids and families, starting in Akron, and then, with your help and the good folks at Microsoft, doing it globally...
It comes from the feeling of, okay, LeBron has a lot of money, he has nice cars, a home, I have a home, cars, whatever, but that's all fine and dandy but it only makes you feel so good for so long, and then that feeling goes away, because it gets old...
...So he comes from not so much, but he understands that he couldn't control it but someone gave him so much, and then he thinks like why me; well, I should give it to someone else, I should pass it along."
The dialogue suggests that LeBron's desire to give back to the community in a monumental way led him to the well-publicized milkshake meeting with Warren Buffett, who has a deep connection with Bill Gates and Microsoft. People like Buffett and Gates could provide insight to LBJ on how to make gobs of money and give it away in an effective manner at the same time.
|There's Hook Mitchell riding behind Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade at LBJ's 2005 Bike-A-Thon in Akron. Hook's wearing his "Mack" (McClymonds High School) jersey manufactured by our very own dreamleaguer Raffy.|
We here at dreamleague would be glad to explain how it would work implemented with our "social entrepreneurship" business model, but who would you rather have milkshake with, Warren Buffett or the Poor Man's Commish?!
At the same time, it's no secret that LeBron wants to tap the Chinese market. There are various reports that he's learning how to speak Mandarin as we get closer and closer to the Beijing Olympics (which should shoot down any theories that he will skip next summer's World Championships in Vegas).
If you wanted to extend your brand on a global basis, yet set yourself up to give back to the community at the same time, you partner with Bill Gates and Microsoft. You gotta hand it to these young men at LRMR. They are leveraging LeBron's star power in more ways than one. TrueHoop and its readers recently bashed the old LRMR website and the rather naive-sounding mission statements scattered about on it, but I remember back when I was 24 years old, quitting my first of three jobs at big companies, having grand plans and new outlooks on life every 12 months: at least the passion and formulation of a vision is there, if not the ability to say it just right -- think Jerry Maguire. It's even harder when your industry peers' sole reason for existence is the skill in saying things just right.
I thought that part of LBJ and LRMR was grossly overlooked. In any case, if you check the website today at www.lrmrmarketing.com, you'll see that they're listening, learning.
Odds are, LBJ is continuing to build his brand on someone else's dime, too. Microsoft is paying him to endorse their products, no? So instead of your garden-variety commercial, do something unique, ground-breaking, and with a globally recognized and revered name such as Microsoft. People are already expecting to see you affiliated with the incumbent Nike, so go beyond the obvious. Leverage the goals of your partner into an even bigger opportunity, something that will turn heads. Bring in a high tide that shall raise all boats.
Then insist this commercial is shot with a Chinese kid to establish a direct identity with your target market. Ensure the kid is genetically Chinese so there are no possible backlashes from your target market (you know how Hollywood gets sometimes when the actor on the screen is not authentic).
Finally, of course, let the kid beat you playing 1-on-1.
Some lucky Chinese kid picked out of Chicago (maybe the biggest city closest to Akron?), is going to be the centerpiece of his new strategy.
That's my only criticism of this whole thing and, of course, I'm biased. Not to put down Chicago, but the generations-old Japanese leagues of California laid down a pretty solid foundation here, clearly unmatched anywhere else as long as 75 years is still considered a relatively long development time. If they only knew what we have going on over here in Asian youth basketball. If you want to hire the best, you should go get the best, and the best Asian youth basketball players are in California.
Other than that, behold LeBron. Behold LRMR. Buy low, sell high. They get that. I have newfound respect.
One last thing. It was a joy to meet Jonathan. I'll never forget that experience. The paths that cross the Poor Man's Commish!
Take a look at his clips on YouTube (search term = "jonathanlo lbjcommercial") and let me know what you think of him. That kid from Chicago better turn out at least as good!
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