? Serena Williams, Take 1. She still dominates when not injured or distracted by her clothing line, screen dalliances and artistic indulgences. (Nice title in Key Biscayne last weekend.) But in the hands of William Morris gremlins for the past four years, her tour appeal and ranking have fluctuated. Why? A cameo on ER means time on the set, away from the practice courts.
? Michelle Wie, Take 2. After William Morris wooed her in 2005, golf's Shirley Temple hit the road show of lucrative exhibitions. Soon her spring-loaded swing and wholesome charm burned out, with handlers and caddies heading for the exits. A wrist injury rendered the onetime It Girl nearly invisible.
? Yi Jianlian, Take 3. The Milwaukee Bucks' rookie from China, that boomtown of a billion consumers, was signed last year by William Morris as a 7-foot exclamation point on its global outreach strategy. Then, the double whammy felled Yi: pedestrian numbers (8.6 points and 5.2 boards per game), plus 16 games missed with injuries (shoulder, wrist and knee).
Not every athlete who has signed with William Morris is ill-fated. Kevin Garnett has been largely safe from harm since joining the firm, though the Boston Celtics are advised to add bubble wrap for curse protection in the playoffs. It is also important to note that Garnett is less vulnerable to a crash because he's more selective about his off-the-court enterprises. Perhaps he understands that ubiquity is exhausting (see Lindsay Lohan). Maybe he sees how uniqueness can be dulled by overexpansion (see Starbucks).
"Right now a lot of players think, I'm going to go out there and brand myself; I'm going to get a logo," Heat coach Pat Riley says. "Really, they're just spinning their wheels."
This is no Jordan marketing template. MJ's popularity was gained title by title. The game now is about more than being set for life. It's about ensuring a luxury lifestyle that means, as one NBA player puts it, "never going to baggage claim again."
Separation from the masses is a must. It's tinted windows and Gulfstream jets. It's Hollywood, baby.
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