LeBron James Is the Most Underrated Entrepreneur of Our Generation

Five steps to be more like LeBron

Ryan Fan
Ryan Fan
Jan 14 · 9 min read
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Photo from All-Pro Reels on Flickr

“At the end of the day, sports, business, everything — we just want to win.” — LeBron James.

A running joke about LeBron James is that when he goes to a new team, he automatically assumes every role — coach, general manager, captain, and more. As arguably the best player to ever play in the NBA, LeBron James singlehandedly usurps an organization’s power structure. He decides which players the team keeps, which players the team trades for, how the team plays, and more.

LeBron does everything, on the court, off the court, and in the real world as an entrepreneur.

It’s a joke, but there’s a lot of truth to it. LeBron James is more than just a basketball player. He is an absolute legend. And he is nicknamed “the King” for his dominance of everything he does, for the icon he is to so many young people he inspires.

I used to hate LeBron when I was a kid, but I was always reaching for reasons. He was like Tom Brady or Christians Ronaldo — too good, too dominant, and too easy of an enemy. LeBron didn’t seem to be bad at anything. When he faced off against playoff rivals, he would suddenly become a sharpshooter. He could single-handedly defend the best player on the other team and power through a whole defense. I wanted to see LeBron lose, but as I got older, I only respected how he was so good, for so long, and wanted to be more like him.

LeBron James is 36, an age where most NBA players would have retired or dwindled to obscurity. He’s still dominating the NBA, coming off the heels of his fifth championships. Michael Jordan was great, but LeBron is dominant. He is the best basketball player to ever grace the Earth, and he seems to only get better.

James is not only dominating the basketball court, as he has since being the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, but he is dominating as an entrepreneur. Allison Maslan, CEO of Pinnacle Global Network, says LeBron is now a brand, soaring towards billionaire-athlete status. Maslan touts LeBron’s brand management skills throughout his long career as an inspiration to everyone.

I personally find billionaire worship in Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk boring and elitist. Instead, I wanted to turn to someone who has been an icon, a public figure on and off the court in LeBron James, who whether you love or hate, has always been someone no one else can be. Raised by a single mother who had him at 16 in Akron, Ohio, LeBron James epitomizes the American dream and gives hope more than any privileged white men can. When he was growing up in Akron, the city condemned his grandmother’s house after she died, and in just three years, he moved 12 times.

This is not to say “if LeBron can do it, you can too.” He got lucky in not suffering many injuries and be so successful. But it’s a fallacy to say Le

LeBron now has a net worth of $450 million, and according to Kurt Badenhausen at Forbes, he leads the I Promise School, a public school funded by James’s foundation, which is helping turn around students struggling with English and math. He runs his own HBO talk show, The Shop with his friend Maverick Carter, where he hosts high profile guests like Obama, Jon Stewart, Odell Beckham Jr., and Snoop Dogg.

He will also be starring soon in Space Jam: A New Legacy. Corban Gable at One 37 PM said LeBron has also made a docuseries on ESPN and made $35 million on an investment in Blaze Pizza, a casual pizza chain. His multimedia network, “Uninterrupted,” has secured a $15.8 million investment from Warner Bros. Entertainment, and that’s only the beginning of a long resume. We could go on for days about everything LeBron has accomplished.

This is the story of Lebron the entrepreneur, and what we can take away from his rules for authentic, genuine success in a world that cruel world that incentivizes everything against what he stands for.

LeBron has always been a professional athlete, but he’s been a role model to all. Jeremy Moser at Entrepreneur shows us LeBron can teach us a significant amount of business, and one of the biggest lessons is focusing on long-term goals over short-term gains.

He went into the NBA after high school, when he was just 18. LeBron’s life changed when both Nike and Reebok approached him as the next best player in the NBA with a shoe deal. Nike offered him $87 million, while Reebok offered him $115 million. Reebok had the higher quantitative deal — they had NBA stars Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal already under contract. Ostensibly, they offered LeBron $28 million more than Nike was willing to give.

However, LeBron chose Nike. Now, Nike is a dominant sponsor in the NBA. Reebok doesn’t sponsor a single NBA player. The Nike deal was facilitated by Maverick Carter, who helped turn the deal into a billion-dollar deal over the course of LeBron’s lifetime contract. Carter said that Nike was the best brand at telling stories, while other brands just create technology and shoes.

“They tell better stories than anyone in Hollywood,” Carter said.

LeBron is also a celebrity across social media platforms. LeBron has over 77 million followers on Instagram and almost 87 million followers on Twitter. LeBron, under the radar, is a genius in investing. He owns 19 Blaze Pizza franchises and has a minority ownership stake in Liverpool, an English football team. LeBron’s investment in Liverpool is now paying off — he made a $6.5 million investment in the team in 2011, and now, the investment has grown six times its initial value., now approximately worth $43.6 million.

Moser calls LeBron’s strategy “buy, build, sell repeat.” LeBron doesn’t build whole new brands from startups and from nothing. He makes investments into already established and growing companies, such as Beats by Dre in 2008.

“The idea is simple and present in nearly every industry: avoid common startup pitfalls through buying a proof of concept in action. Then, utilize your existing assets, skill sets, and knowledge to build it with the intention of selling,” Moser says.

He made $700 million from his investment in Beats by Dre. Former teammate, Kendrick Perkins, calls LeBron “the chosen one in life” — he’s successful in almost all his business ventures. Perkins often jokes to LeBron that he hates him “because everything you touch turns into gold!”

But the takeaway is that LeBron never invests much too much in starting something from scratch. He invests in a growing, established brand and capitalizes.

LeBron would never have gotten to where he is now if he wasn’t so good at basketball. And he dominates basketball in every respect, and he has consistently done it for a very long time. While other players struggle significantly with injuries, LeBron has been very, very lucky with almost never getting injured. With the exception of all but one season, LeBron has played more than 60 of 82 games.

And it’s not just about LeBron’s physical prowess as someone who’s fast, powerful, at 6'9" and 270 pounds. And he plays more minutes per game than most players. LeBron seemingly defies every rule in the book. Coach Nick, the owner of YouTube channel BBALLBREAKDOWN, compares LeBron to Thanos in the Avengers, and his continuous dominance of teams like the Toronto Raptors made Coach Nick label the team the “Lebronto Raptors.”

He has been so good for so long at basketball. But it’s not only in the sport. He’s leveraged his reputation as the best basketball player of all time, and Moser notes how he dominates his niche outside the court as well. Much of his money doesn’t actually come from his salary.

LeBron regularly gets endorsements from the gaming franchise, the 2k Sports franchise, and appears frequently and everything basketball related. He also founded Ladder in 2018, which makes sports, workout, and wellness equipment, gear, and supplements.

He is more than just a basketball player — LeBron James is a brand.

Although LeBron James has many individual accomplishments and accolades, individuals don’t win championships. Teams do. LeBron realized he didn’t have the support he needed to win a championship with his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And so in 2010, LeBron joined the Miami Heat with superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It was not a popular move. Cleveland fans burned his jersey. In 2014, Miami Heat fans upset with LeBron leaving the Heat burned his jersey and defaced his mural. But he did return to Cleveland, which showed his loyalty to his hometown fanbase.

LeBron knows he isn’t going to please everyone. However, he puts his team and his friends first. LeBron often teams up with other superstars, including Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Anthony Davis. But there were also players that played with LeBron multiple times, like Wade, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Mo Williams.

He was not only loyal to other players in the NBA, but LeBron James is also very loyal to his close friends. When he was in high school, he befriended Maverick Carter, Rich Paul, and Randy Mims, and the four of them would call themselves the Four Horsemen. Carter is James’s business partner, Paul is his agent, and Mims is his manager. Not only have LeBron’s friends been instrumental to his successful, but his girlfriend of two decades and now wife, Savannah Brinson, has been a loyal supporter throughout his whole career.

“A person like myself always needs a great sidekick and a person you can rely on no matter the circumstances. And she’s that. She’s got my back, and I love her for that.”

LeBron isn’t as fast and physically dominant at basketball as he used to be. However, he is somehow better at the game. LeBron’s Los Angeles Lakers are the most recent NBA champions, and LeBron’s performances continue to defy logic at 36.

LeBron has said he was like “fine wine, getting better with age.” He has played even better than he did in his mid to late 20s when most players are at their prime. Of course, he doesn’t physically dominate like he used to, but he has changed his game. He became a better shooter, became a better passer, and has improved his basketball IQ to know when and where everyone should be on the court at all times.

While LeBron is older, he simply makes better decisions. He sees more of the court. He’s more in control of his brain.

“The thing I love about LeBron is that he’s a lifelong learner…He continues to want to learn about his craft,” said Duke and Team USA coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

Part of what makes LeBron better with age is that he takes care of himself and his body as not to burn out. He prioritizes his nutrition in hydration, flexibility exercises, and the weight room. LeBron sleeps — a lot. LeBron told Tim Ferris he sleeps eight or nine hours a night, and sometimes even 10. According to Niklas Göke, if LeBron doesn’t get that much sleep in, he often catches up with a two-hour nap. LeBron also spends about $1.5 million on his body each year for his diet, cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers, trainers, and personal chefs.

That’s how he still dominates basketball at LeBron understands it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and invests and treats his body and mind to prioritize that balance.

LeBron is much more than just a basketball player. He is a brand. He is an entrepreneur. He seems to win and dominate at almost everything he does, and we have a lot to learn from him. It’s astounding how LeBron does it all and continues to do it all, but every person and entrepreneur has the following steps to learn from LeBron:

  • Focus on long-term success over short-term quick fixes
  • Invest in established brands rather than start from scratch
  • Be good at what you do and master your world
  • Be loyal to your friends and team
  • Be better and savvier with age

Although most of us won’t be gifted with the physical gifts or mental savviness of LeBron, or the money to spend on cryotherapy, we can all be better people if we became a bit more like LeBron James.

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Ryan Fan

Written by

Ryan Fan

Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of “The Wire.” Email: ryanfan17@gmail.com. Support me: ko-fi.com/ryanfan

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Ryan Fan

Written by

Ryan Fan

Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of “The Wire.” Email: ryanfan17@gmail.com. Support me: ko-fi.com/ryanfan

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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