It may be the sports world's most burning question: what team will LeBron James sign with next? James, of course, will be a free agent once the NBA playoffs conclude. Will he re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers? Relocate to Los Angeles? Head south to Houston? Join a youth movement in Philadelphia?
It may be the sports world's most burning question: what team will LeBron James sign with next?
James, of course, will be a free agent once the NBA playoffs conclude. Will he re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers? Relocate to Los Angeles? Head south to Houston? Join a youth movement in Philadelphia? Among these more prominent contenders, a dark horse has emerged. Or, rather, a dark swine: the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
The IronPigs, Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, made their intentions known by paying for a billboard located near their Coca-Cola Park home. "Our pitch," read the ad. "LeBron to the IronPigs." The team's tweet featuring the billboard, sent on May 9, quickly went viral. As of this writing, it had accumulated nearly 5,000 likes.
The IronPigs' attention-getting billboard was accompanied by an open letter to LeBron, which explained there was "one major flaw" in LeBron's quest "to be the greatest of all time." That flaw? LeBron has never experienced "[a] season of mediocre play in Minor League Baseball." Michael Jordan did this, of course, hitting .202 in 127 games as a member of the 1994 Birmingham Barons.
"The choice is clear. Your legacy is on the line," the letter concluded. "We know you're searching for the correct move to catch MJ and Coca-Cola Park is the place to find what you need."
IronPigs president Kurt Landes has led the Allentown, Pennsylvania-based IronPigs since their 2006 inception. He's no stranger to attention-getting stunts but has never seen one take off quite like #LVWantsLeBron.
"We've done some neat things. The Smell the Change campaign and urinal games and funeral giveaways. Cheesesteaks and Bacon Vs. Tacos," said Landes, speaking in his office during a May 12 rain delay. "But this is, virally anyway, probably the biggest campaign we've had. ... So now we're gonna pull out all the stops and make sure that LeBron knows that we love him here and if he really wants to match greatness, you've gotta go through Lehigh Valley."
Landes speaks of the #LVWantsLeBron campaign in earnest tones, in no way betraying its inherent absurdity. Listening to him, it's easy to forget that LeBron has never expressed an interest in playing baseball or that for him to play on the IronPigs he'd have to be signed by the Phillies and assigned to Lehigh Valley. Such things, in his view, are merely small obstacles to overcome.
"In LeBron fashion, he wants to do things first-class and right and surround himself with championship-caliber people," Landes said. "So this is a championship-caliber front office and we've got the best ballpark in the country, the best facilities for him to train. ... It's fun for me, personally. I'm a big LeBron James and Cavs fan; I grew up in Ohio. My first job was with the [Toledo] Mud Hens, but my second job was Akron. I worked in Akron, Ohio, for five years [with the Aeros, now the RubberDucks]. In my memory, or in my dreams and my hopes, part of me thinks that LeBron James and myself have already crossed paths."
Landes said that the team had the idea to do the #LVWantsLeBron billboard more than a month before it went up.
"I think we kind of had it in our back pockets for a little bit, and then the timing was right with the Sixers being knocked out [of the playoffs] and knowing that the story locally would kind of turn into 'What do they need to do next?'... And that same night that we had the huge social media [reaction], we were brainstorming. So our goal now is for it to be a campaign for the next seven weeks. And we have a huge advantage, because these NBA rules, it's tampering if they reach out to LeBron James between now and July 1. We have a seven-week head start over the Cavs and the Sixers and the Lakers to recruit LeBron James. So I think it's a huge competitive window for us."
The IronPigs' campaign will culminate on June 28 with #LVWants LeBron Night. On that evening, the first 1,500 fans 18 and older will receive LeBron masks, while the first 1,500 children in attendance receive LeBron headbands.
Per the team's news release, "The night will also feature a number of basketball and LeBron James-themed activities, including a chalk toss, special LeBron fan cam, merchandise, and a free fountain Sprite for anyone who comes to the ballpark wearing a LeBron James jersey." The IronPigs are also asking fans to post video pitches to LeBron James on social media, using the #LVWantsLeBron hashtag.
By the time LeBron officially becomes a free agent, Landes feels that the IronPigs will be in a prime spot to land him.
"No one else has been able to reach out to him. No one else has a campaign," he said. "Everybody else is handcuffed because they have to follow the silly rules of the NBA. There's no rules in Minor League Baseball, so I think we're the frontrunners."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter