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Squire, Sanders & Dempsey has had a sports law practice for years, but never has the Cleveland-based firm had a more potentially lucrative client than its most recent recruit: a high school basketball player from Akron, Ohio. At 18 years old, LeBron James has played on ESPN and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. After his June 7 high school graduation, he’s expected to be the first pick chosen in the National Basketball Association draft this summer. As James’ amateur status winds down, ideas to capitalize on his fame are arriving daily. “I have never experienced the level of interest in the LeBron phenomenon,” says Frederick Nance, lead attorney for James and also the managing partner of Squire’s 170-lawyer Cleveland office. It’s not just the normal financial consulting offers that are coming in, says Nance. Pitches for books, movies, action figures, and endorsements have all been in the offing for the 6-foot-8-inch wunderkind. The official response (at least until late April, when James declared himself eligible for the NBA draft) was “Let’s wait and see if LeBron turns pro.” In the meantime, Nance says he’s been focused on matters not normally considered the province of high school sports: preserving the James brand by preventing memorabilia from being sold without permission. “We’ve had to send some cease-and-desist letters,” says Nance. The most pressing matter Nance has handled for James came in January, when the Ohio High School Athletic Association declared him ineligible, alleging he lost his amateur status by accepting two jerseys worth more than $800 from a Cleveland clothing shop. Nance subsequently appeared in Ohio state court to stay the ruling. As a result, James was forced to miss only two games. Nance had, in fact, already been in James’ court weeks before the eligibility issue arose. Last winter Alexandria Boone, president and CEO of a Cleveland PR firm, invited Nance to co-chair the annual fund-raiser for the Black Professionals Association. Boone says she knew of Nance’s successful effort to bring the Browns back to Cleveland and his leadership position at Squire Sanders. After the two started working together on the fund-raiser, Boone, who calls herself an adviser to the James family, asked Nance if he was interested in meeting some people who were going to need some legal advice. Nance, of course, jumped at the assignment, and picked up a new practice in the process. Although he had negotiated with professional sports teams and leagues before, Nance had never represented an individual athlete. In this extraordinary case, Nance is getting help from at least six other Squire Sanders lawyers. While Nance is open about the kind of work he’s doing for James, he falls mute when asked how he bills his client. Squire Sanders represents several professional athletes and bills them by the hour, according to Nance, but in the case of James, who comes from less than modest means and has yet to fully cash in on his fame, the arrangement is being kept private. Whatever it is, there are apparently many other attorneys who think James is good for it. “Some of the best [lawyers] in the land have courted us,” says Boone. High school basketball ain’t what it used to be.

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