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How one player draws a field

October 12, 2003|Mary Umberger | Chicago Tribune

"The real estate market is saturated with so much traditional marketing," said real estate agent Mike Wiant of Akron, Ohio. "Someone has to step up and do something different."

So he did.

Realizing that anyone who could afford his new listing, a $1.1-million house in the affluent Bath Township area, would have to have a bit of cash to spare, he came up with a couple of names of potential buyers -- the National Basketball Assn.'s No. 1 draft pick, LeBron James, and golfer Ben Curtis, this year's surprise winner of the British Open.

Curtis lives in nearby Stow, Ohio, and James, is beginning his professional career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, was known to be in the market for a house in Akron, his hometown.

"I have kind of an unorthodox way of thinking," Wiant said. "I thought, 'Take a chance.' "

So he shelled out $1,000 apiece to rent three billboards in the area that entreated the athletes -- by name -- to come on down and buy that house.

"Hey, LeBron.... You're the king. This is your castle. Call Mike," one billboard spelled out in huge type. In the foreground was a photo of Wiant holding a basketball, and in the background a dramatic shot of the contemporary house, which resembles a glassy pyramid. The ad included Wiant's telephone number.

On a billboard on another street, the real estate agent held golf clubs, with this ad copy: "Congratulations Ben. Here's a Humble Home for Your New Trophy(s). Please call."

LeBron didn't call. Ben didn't call. But within days, a lot of other people did, including a 20-year-old techie millionaire who had looked at the house previously and was frantic that James would buy it out from under him. So the young man made an offer of $925,000 for the house, and the owner accepted it.

Wiant said he's going to put that news on the billboards too, in a big, diagonal stripe that reads: "Sold to a 20-year-old Internet kid."

He said he's just getting rolling. "I can't wait till the next ad campaign gets started," Wiant said.

"I have lots of ideas."

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