LeBron James could use some sound advice; that much has been clear since his much-criticized decision to announce that he would be joining the Miami Heat in a one-hour ESPN special that shot that network's credibility and enraged the city of Cleveland. And now he's getting some, from a most unexpected source: an Israeli rabbi who speaks no English and bases his teachings on the Kabbalah.
In a move likely to puzzle some of his fans, James met Tuesday with Yishayahu Yosef Pinto, a 37-year-old spiritual leader whose following in the business community is as intense as it is mysterious to the uninitiated. According to TMZ, the NBA star was seeking guidance in advance of a major merchandising meeting set to take place on a yacht later in the day.
A follower of Pinto's tells DailyFinance that the meeting was arranged by Jay Schottenstein, an Ohio retail executive who himself has become acquainted with Pinto in recent months. The relationship between James and Schottenstein, who serves as chairman of the boards of both American Eagle Outfitters and DSW, is no secret: When Time asked James whom he would nominate to the magazine's annual list of influential people, he suggested Schottenstein, prompting speculation that he was interested in converting to Judaism. The follower of Pinto's adds that James made a "six-figure payment" to Pinto's organization, Shuva Israel, in the course of arranging the meeting.
Strange as that sounds, James is far from the only well-known personage to seek Pinto's counsel on worldly matters. A descendant of famous Moroccan rabbis on both his parents' sides, Pinto has for several years been regarded as something of a guru in the New York real estate community.
"Rabbi Pinto, who has no formal business education, only speaks Hebrew and won't meet with women, is considered by Israeli real estate professionals as well as people in other professions and of different faiths to be a holy man," wrote The Real Deal, a real estate industry publication, in a 2008 profile. Others who have attended his sermons or waited on him in person include Congressman Anthony Weiner, former New York governor Mario Cuomo, ad executive Donny Deutsch, jeweler-to-the-stars and convicted felon Jacob Arabo, and public relations man Ronn Torossian, according to various published reports.
When he's not advising real estate moguls on whether to sell buildings, Pinto runs a number of Jewish educational and philanthropic organizations. His name recently surfaced in the press after a Hasidic real estate broker with whom he'd had business dealings, and with whom he'd had a falling out, died in an apparent suicide.