There are certain people that just have “IT.” I am not sure what “IT” is but like the famous Supreme Court description of the definition of pornography, I know when I see it. There is a star power that occurs the moment they walk in a room and when it happens, everyone stops and takes note. In the college basketball world, two and only two coaches have “IT,” Coach K and John Calipari. At recruiting events around the country, when they walk in the entire gymnasium stops and takes notice to see not only who they are watching but what their demeanor is during the game. Even if Tom Izzo, Roy Williams and Rick Pitino are standing in the corner playing naked Twister, the eyes of the masses will immediately leave them if either K or Cal walks in. They have “IT” and the rest simply don’t.
While John Calipari and Coach K have “IT” in the realm of college basketball, I am not sure that their the “stop and take notice” appeal extends to the world of sports as a whole. That doesn’t mean that their presence won’t be known, but they don’t necessarily stop traffic outside of the college basketball world. In fact, thanks to the social media-drenched culture that we live in, the idea of seeing celebrities that simply make people stop in their tracks has been shrinking. In a world where someone can get 10 million You Tube hits for simply playing video games, the notion of seeing someone “famous” is malleable. Nevertheless, there are still some sports figures that move the needle. If Tiger Woods, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning are in the building, you can feel it because the attention and buzz that follows them hits a fever pitch. However as big as they are, there is no one currently in sports that makes a room light up like the appearance of Lebron James.
Many people love him and many hate him, but Lebron moves the needle like none other. As we sat down today to watch Karl-Anthony Towns play his final NBA Summer League game versus the Cleveland Cavs, it was interesting to look around and see the basketball celebrity class in the building. Around the gym Rick Fox, Del Harris, Flip Saunders, David Blatt and Andrew Wiggins and random other faces could be seen, all part of the basketball community in a small gymnasium that makes the Vegas Summer League so unique. The players on the court included some names you knew, such as Tyus Jones, Adrian Payne and Joe Harris. Karl-Anthony Towns was of course the feature attraction and most watched his every move during warmups…well that is until Lebron walked into the building. Striding in through the backdoor, wearing sunglasses, a gold chain and a Cleveland Indians jersey with “KING JAMES” emblazoned on the back (a little much if you ask me), everything in the arena stopped so all people could get a glimpse of Lebron. In the same manner as a tense moment at the end of a game, everyone stood up out of their seats and the murmur around the gym suggested that royalty had arrived. Cameras all were pulled out in unison like at an emotional moment of a concert, with all people trying to get an Instagram moment of Lebron in the premises. As security guards tried to keep order (and did so without much success, screaming at people to “DON’T TAKE ANY PICTURES!”…as futile an action as I can imagine), everyone jockeyed just to walk within a passing glimpse so as to say they were close to the best player in the world. The first five minutes of the game were collectively ignored as every set of eyes was on the front row of the floor seats, looking to see what Lebron was doing and whether he and his coach David Blatt were communicating well. It was a sight to behold.
I can tell you that I paid attention to the game, but that would be somewhat of a lie. I know Karl-Anthony Towns had some good moments and his running left handed hook showcased why he is still a very underrated first overall pick (a thought expressed very well today in this article on Grantland). But ultimately I remember no other play from the game and not even sure who won. I do however remember that Lebron walked in and that Drew, Tomlin and I spent 10 minutes discussing whether it was douchey that he had on a jersey with his name on it (my verdict…yeah kind of). That is the power of those who have the “IT” factor. Whether you love them or hate them, you have to talk about and notice them. We don’t have many of those people left in society, but when you are in the room with one as we were with Lebron on Friday, you definitely know it when you see it.