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08.11.10

LeBron's Financial Rabbi

The basketball superstar has turned to Rabbi Yishayahu Yosef Pinto for career advice. Humorist and speechwriter Mark Katz on how far he’s come from being an overgrown kid in Ohio.

LeBron James and a rabbi walk onto a yacht... 
 

Like so much of the news, this only sounds like a joke—and with headlines like this, who needs Jon Stewart? But for the benefit of those who don’t subscribe to breaking news alerts from TMZ.com, this joke only gets more absurdist as its beats play out: 
 

LeBron James and a rabbi walk on to a yacht. LeBron turns to the rabbi and says, “Rabbi, tell me what you think of this billion-dollar merchandising proposal?” And the rabbi says something in Hebrew that LeBron does not understand. 
 

As they say, it’s funny because it’s true. One hundred percent. 

Despite his self-assigned nickname “The Chosen One” and his recent decision to relocate to Florida, LeBron is not Jewish.

These are the kind of bizarro scenarios that the rarefied superstars of our culture—be they politicians, movie stars, financiers, athletes or some combination thereof—inevitably arrive at: the kind of decisions that no person on terra firma would ever make. With each fresh news cycle comes another mind-boggling story featuring an A-List name from Hollywood, Washington, and Wall Street that all elicit the same question: “What the hell were they thinking?” But the better question is: How does this happen to people who were probably once normal? Only 10 years removed from being an overgrown kid from Ohio, LeBron James was recently the Grand Prize in a free-agent sweepstakes and now a full-time resident of his own private universe—a place where a thought like this constitutes a perfectly sound idea: “You know what? I need a Talmudic scholar to see me through a mega-deal marketing meeting. Better yet, I need one who does not speak a word of English. I’m going to call my Rebbe as soon as shabbos is over!”  
 

Of course, LeBron is hardly a lone lunatic among his peers. How much do you want to bet that the moment the rabbi’s BlackBerry buzzed, he was sitting next to P. Diddy at the closing of his $25 million biosphere dome in the Galapagos or huddling with Martha Stewart as she was picking out a continent in need of a makeover? These days, Mel Gibson is one of the few celebrities who refuses to consult a rabbi—and look what a happened to him! 
 

The good news is that at least LeBron had enough sense remaining to realize that he was in need of spiritual guidance. But why a rabbi? Despite his self-assigned nickname “The Chosen One” and his recent decision to relocate to Florida, LeBron is not Jewish. Wasn’t there a family priest or minister he could call? I have seen hundreds of professional athletes thank Jesus for their touchdown and never once did I hear a post-game interview that included a shout out to “HaShem.” Is it possible LeBron cross-referenced the Yellow Pages for a spiritualist who also had a head for business—and that’s how he ended up with a rabbi?

Each day another resident of this otherworldly stratosphere makes a choice that makes no sense to the rest of the humans and a few minutes after that, all the world is reading about it online. That’s why more and more, our brains are forced to process true scenarios like this one that hit our ears like jokes.

By the way, did you hear the one about the ex-former future son-in-law of Sarah Palin who is running for mayor of Wasilla?

Postscript: By the way, noted futurologist Mel Brooks once predicted that Yiddeshe yodas would make for excellent marketing mavens.

A former political operative, recovering copywriter, and failed sitcom writer, Mark Katz is now the founder and principal of the Soundbite Institute, a creative think tank that specializes in on-message humor. His essays have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Time magazine, and he is the author of CLINTON & ME: A Real Life Political Comedy, an account of eight years as the in-house humor speechwriter of the Clinton White House.