LeBron James’s Business Manager: Storytelling is a Competitive Advantage

How can good storytelling position you to win at business?

That’s one of the big ideas discussed in a recent Recode Decode podcast, where Recode’s Kurt Wagner interviews basketball superstar LeBron James’s longtime friend and business manager, Maverick Carter.

Carter started his career at Nike as a summer intern, while a student at Western Michigan University, and continued with Nike for a few years after graduation.

“I really learned sports marketing and sports branding, and how to take a brand and marry an athlete with the brand to really tell a story,” says Carter. “At Nike, they have a great saying: They make shoes, they make apparel, and the rest they make up. And the part they make up is the stories. They tell great stories with their products and their athletes.”

By his second year in the NBA, LeBron asked Carter to leave Nike and become his full-time business manager and partner.

Carter shares some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories in this interview:

(14:00) How Carter got Beats by Dre onto the 2008 Olympic basketball team, before anyone really heard of the company.

(18:50) The backstory behind “The Decision” on ESPN in 2010, when LeBron announced he was leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and “taking my talents to South Beach.” Carter discusses how they applied the lessons learned from “The Decision” to reshape their communications strategy for LeBron’s announcement in 2014 that he was “coming home” to Cleveland.

(25:45) Why he and LeBron launched Uninterrupted, a digital platform for first-person athlete stories hosted on Bleacher Report, in 2014.

The Best Story Wins

At 38:35, Wagner asks: “What have you learned, transitioning from sports marketing to entertainment? Do they bleed together pretty closely or are they pretty different?” Carter’s answer captures the essence of storytelling as a business strategy.

“I learned that, just like in marketing and then in entertainment, the best story wins,” says Carter. “The person who can tell the most authentic, most relatable, biggest story wins. That’s in marketing. That’s also in entertainment. People love stories. People want to attach themselves to stories. … You and I can both create the same product. But if you’re able to tell a better story about your product, and why your product works, you’re a better marketer than me.”

Author: Sean M. Lyden is Chief Storyteller at Lyden Communications, LLC, an Orlando, Fla.-based strategy & storytelling consultancy that teaches business leaders, entrepreneurs, and marketers how to tell stories that move hearts and change minds. He blogs at Strategy & Storytelling.