LeBron James (Photo by Keith Allison)
Frederick Nance, a Cleveland-based regional managing partner at Squire Patton Boggs, could have been one of the happiest lawyers in America on Friday afternoon.
In news that went far beyond the sports world, basketball star LeBron James announced via an exclusive story on SI.com that he would return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, the same National Basketball Association franchise he had left in the lurch four years before to take his talents to sun-kissed Miami.
“They’re literally dancing in the streets in Cleveland,” Nance wrote in an email response to an inquiry from The Am Law Daily about his reaction to the news. In a subsequent phone call Friday afternoon, Nance could barely contain his enthusiasm about his longtime client’s second major decision to come home to Cleveland.
In James’ piece for SI.com, as told to writer Lee Jenkins, the 29-year-old future NBA Hall of Famer described his time in Miami as “almost like college for other kids.” After four years, it was time for James to come home.
“Isn’t that an apt metaphor?” says Nance, who has represented James since he was a teenager from Akron where the Cavaliers drafted him out of high school in 2003. Nance was still at James’ side seven years later when he made his controversial decision to join the Miami Heat, where he won two NBA championships.
Nance has never been directly involved in the basketball decisions behind James’ career—that’s the realm of Rich Paul, the NBA star’s childhood friend and agent—but he admits that as a close business adviser he was able to offer some perspective on where James should play next. And it wasn’t exactly unbiased counsel.
“I’m a Cleveland guy,” says Nance, breathing a sigh of what may have been relief that his client didn’t spurn his hometown twice. “I think you can see [from the SI.com piece] what a thoughtful guy [James] is, and we’re just so happy to have him back.”
James’ decision to opt out of the final two years of his Heat contract last month spurred talk that he might return to Cleveland, whose denizens were shocked and dismayed on July 8, 2010, when the former Cavs star announced on live television that he would leave the team that drafted him.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, a billionaire graduate of Wayne State University’s law school, was so upset at James that he wrote a stinging letter excoriating the star—one that in recent days was removed from the team’s website—and even reportedly retained Jones Day for a potential lawsuit over James leaving the team. (Jones Day previously advised on the $375 million sale of the Cavs to Gilbert in 2005.)
In the end, the Cavs never pursued litigation with James, and the team’s former-now-turned-current star mended the rift with Gilbert. Through it all was Nance, who has previously spoken with The Am Law Daily about his work for James, from scuttling paternity suits to inking lucrative endorsement deals.
Nance has deep ties to Cleveland and its star-crossed sporting scene, having helped negotiate the return of the National Football’s League Cleveland Browns in 1999 and later serving as general counsel to the team, which was sold two years ago for a whopping $1 billion. (Nance remains a senior adviser and special counsel to the NFL team.)
The news of James’ return comes only a day after Cleveland won the right to host the Republican National Convention in 2016 and a month after the Browns drafted Heisman Trophy-winning star college quarterback Johnny Manziel, who happens to be signed with LRMR Marketing, the marketing and management company owned by James, Paul and fellow childhood friends Maverick Carter and Randy Mims, all of whom grew up together in Akron. (Cleveland lawyer-agent Mark Termini handles the legal side of James’ basketball contract negotiations.)
Paul and LRMR are also clients of Nance and Squire Patton Boggs, the 1,500-lawyer firm created on June 1 through the merger of Squire Sanders and Patton Boggs. Nance, a legacy Squire Sanders partner, has been overseeing the integration process between both firms.
While keeping himself busy with that ongoing process, Nance also supervises teams of Squire Patton Boggs attorneys handling an array of matters for James and his team, such as estate-planning, employment agreements, joint venture deals and IP issues. James himself, as evidenced by LRMR and his various other endeavors, is not just a player but a mini-business empire.
Forbes reported Friday that as a result of James’ decision to leave Miami to return to Cleveland, the Cavs saw their franchise value increase by $100 million, roughly the same amount that the Heat dropped in value. In Miami, the loss of James’ economic engine will be felt by multiple local businesses, according to sibling publication the Daily Business Review.
Nance declined to comment on the specifics of any other business deals lined up by James in the wake of his return to Cleveland, which has not yet announced the details of a contract with the NBA star. (The maximum annual pay package James can be offered by the team under the league’s salary cap is about $20.7 million.)
While Cavs fans and Cleveland citizens celebrate the return of King James, James himself is headed to Brazil, where he’ll attend the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.