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LeBron future linked to Cavaliers' China deal

THE Cleveland Cavaliers have signed an agreement with an investment group from China to become a minority owner of the National Basketball Association franchise and its arena, a partnership that could impact superstar LeBron James' future with the team.

The Asian conglomerate, which includes Huang Jianhua, a Chinese businessman who has brokered sponsorship deals with the New York Yankees and other sports franchises in the US, could acquire up to 15 percent of Cavaliers Operating Company, the entity that owns the team and operates Quicken Loans Arena.

The deal, completed in recent days, must be approved by the league's board of governors.

Team President Len Komoroski said on Sunday the group approached Cavaliers principal owner Dan Gilbert about the partnership and called the business venture "an exciting new opportunity."

If approved, the deal would provide marketing opportunities for the Cavaliers and James, who is eligible to become a free agent in the summer of 2010. The 24-year-old MVP, who is already among the league's most popular players in Asia, has stated he wants to become the first billionaire athlete. His brand overseas could be enhanced by playing for a team with Chinese business partners.

There has been ongoing speculation that James will leave Cleveland to play in a larger market like New York or Los Angeles because of the vast business opportunities.

But James - and his giant corporate sponsors like Nike - have broader goals and may be able to attain them by tapping into China's colossal consumer market without him ever leaving Cleveland.

James has never given any indication he wants to leave the Cavaliers, who drafted the Akron, Ohio, native with the No. 1 overall pick in 2003. He won a gold medal with the US team at the 2008 Beijing Games and has made four trips to China.

"It's a big market. They love the game of basketball. I've been over there the last four or five summers. It should be good," he said.


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