Red Sox: LeBron James evolves from villain to ally in Boston

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 30: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics defends LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the fourth quarter at TD Garden on January 30, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Lakers defeat the Celtics 96-95. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 30: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics defends LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the fourth quarter at TD Garden on January 30, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Lakers defeat the Celtics 96-95. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

LeBron James becomes an unlikely ally by joining Red Sox ownership

LeBron James owned the Celtics on the court when he last faced them in a playoff series. Now the four-time NBA MVP has taken aim at owning another Boston franchise. According to The Boston Globe’s Michael Silverman, James and his business associate Maverick Carter have agreed to become partners in the Fenway Sports Group, which includes ownership of the Boston Red Sox.

James has a long history with this city in which he has been branded as a villain for standing in opposition of their beloved basketball team. The bitterness that has been building toward their rival over the years will naturally result in some mixed feelings when it comes to embracing him as part of the Red Sox organization.

The self-proclaimed King was anointed a superstar from the moment he entered the NBA, instantly making the long-suffering Cleveland Cavaliers relevant. Early in his career, LeBron’s ascension was thwarted by the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The juggernaut Celtics knocked the Cavs out in the second round of the playoffs on their way to the NBA Finals in 2008 and 2010, presenting James with his most challenging obstacle on his path to greatness.

The momentum shifted in LeBron’s favor when he took his talents to South Beach in a “Decision” that rubbed many fans the wrong way. From the manipulation of the free agency process that allowed him to form his own super team to the cold-hearted way he publicly broke up with Cleveland, signing with the Heat tarnished his image as a rising hero essentially everywhere outside of Miami.

James finally got over the hump by beating the Celtics in the playoffs in each of his first two seasons in Miami, including an epic seven-game Eastern Conference Finals that ended the last playoff run by Boston’s Big Three.

LeBron continued to be a thorn in the side of the Celtics after he returned to Cleveland, dispatching them in the playoffs three times and twice in the Conference Finals. In their most recent battle on the postseason stage, James spoiled the coming out party for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown by leading a dramatic comeback to send Cleveland to the NBA Finals. James’ 46-point performance in Game 6 was a signature moment in his career that staved off elimination for the Cavs and he followed with a 35-point effort in which he was an assist shy of a triple-double to seal the series victory.

In case he hadn’t given Boston fans enough of a reason to despise him, LeBron doubled down by joining the Los Angeles Lakers. The Red Sox and Yankees are arguably the fiercest rivalry in sports but the Celtics and Lakers are certainly in the conversation. Last year, James led the Lakers to their 17th championship, tying the Celtics for the most titles in NBA history (if you count the banners the Lakers raised in Minneapolis – but that’s an argument for another day).

James has built an incredible legacy that will ultimately recognize him as one of the best to ever play the game but his long-standing rivalry with the Celtics still portrays him as an enemy that we love to hate.

That could change now that James is joining Red Sox Nation.

LeBron’s potential impact on the Red Sox

It’s unclear what role LeBron will play as part of the ownership group but we shouldn’t expect him to take a hands-on approach. John Henry remains the principal owner and it has yet to be reported how much of a stake James will own, assuming the deal gets approved by MLB. James already owned a 2 percent stake in the Liverpool Football Club in the English Premier League so this new deal expands his investment to incorporate other assets under the Fenway Sports Group umbrella, including the Red Sox.

Even if James remains in the background while focusing primarily on his basketball career, he could potentially have a positive influence on the Red Sox. He’s one of the world’s most popular athletes and widely respected by his peers. There could come a time when Boston’s brass is trying to lure a free agent that is on the fence about signing with the Red Sox. One phone call from James could sway their decision in our favor.

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James is a proven winner who knows what it takes to handle the pressure of competing in a big market and on the brightest stage. As part of the ownership group, it’s feasible that he could lend his advice to young Red Sox players. His baseball knowledge certainly pales in comparison to his basketball IQ but there are aspects of being a professional athlete that James is well accustomed to and there would be benefits to sharing his experiences with developing talent.

LeBron is a big fan of baseball but his loyalties tend to fluctuate. The Akron native has shown support for his home-state team in Cleveland, a city he’s shared with the club for the majority of his career spent with the Cavaliers. He has proclaimed himself a Yankees fan in the past, which obviously didn’t sit well in Boston. Last year, James switched his allegiance to the Dodgers as they stormed their way to a World Series title. LeBron is an unapologetic bandwagon baseball fan who admits that he supports “winners.”

Now he’s financially tying himself to supporting the Red Sox. James has a strong influence over his massive following. If fans are looking to jump on a team’s bandwagon, LeBron could push them toward Red Sox Nation.

LeBron has built a brand that establishes himself as one of the world’s most recognizable athletes. MLB has long had issues marketing their players but adding James into the fold as part owner of a team certainly can’t hurt the effort to improve in that department.

Perhaps most importantly, James’ investment in this ownership group signals that Fenway Sports Group is a growing business. Any concerns that the recent trimming of the Red Sox payroll foreshadowed a dismantling of the franchise in preparation for Henry selling the team should be put to rest. This ownership group is expanding and the financial benefits should help keep the Red Sox among the highest spending teams in baseball.

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Adding James to the ownership group probably won’t have an immediate impact on the fortunes of the Red Sox but there is some long-term potential to this partnership. This deal should be viewed as a positive for this organization, even if it will be difficult for most Boston fans to accept LeBron as an ally after so many years of treating him as the villain.