LeBron James is building a new blueprint for athletes in business

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Showtime this week announced a new three-part docu-series produced by LeBron James. The title: “Shut Up and Dribble.” (The title is a quote from Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who said it on air in February as an insult to James; Kevin Durant called it “racist.”) The series will debut in October, in time for the start of the new NBA season, and James’s first season playing for the L.A. Lakers.

If the Showtime series isn’t enough, or if October is too far away, James is also producing and hosting an HBO show, “The Shop,” that debuts later this month. The format: candid conversations with athletes and celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Jon Stewart. (The show comes from LeBron’s media company Uninterrupted.)

And if double-dipping with HBO and Showtime isn’t enough, James and his business partner Maverick Carter produced a youth football docu-series debuting on Starz in September called “Warriors of Liberty City.” This comes after his previous Starz show, “Survivor’s Remorse,” ended its four-season run.

Suddenly, LeBron James is a television executive. Of course, the NBA mega-star already has Hollywood sway, but now that he’s living and playing in L.A., the deals will likely multiply. (In 2015 he appeared in the Amy Schumer film “Trainwreck” and he is widely expected to eventually star in “Space Jam 2.“)

LeBron James speaks at the opening ceremony for his I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, on July 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Of course, James is not the only current or former star athlete who has directed their money into media ventures. Derek Jeter founded The Players’ Tribune, a web site for confessional blog posts by athletes, and launched Jeter Publishing, a book publishing imprint partnership with Simon & Schuster, both in 2014. Kobe Bryant and his investing partner Jeff Stibel launched a VC fund, Bryant Stibel, and have invested in startups including The Players’ Tribune. Bryant also produced, wrote, and narrated the 2018 animated short, “Dear Basketball,” which won an Academy Award. Carmelo Anthony launched a VC fund in 2014, Melo7 Tech Partners, with Stuart Goldfarb, a former executive at the German media company Bertelsmann. Andre Agassi in 2016 invested in the athlete media platform Unscriptd

But for James, the Hollywood and media ventures make up just one part of his rapidly-expanding business empire. James has an equity stake in the Liverpool football club. He invested in Blaze Pizza in 2012. He has a lifetime deal with Nike, something the company has never done before, though it has been generally assumed Michael Jordan has a similar agreement.

Amidst all of this, he has President Donald Trump insulting him on Twitter. On Aug. 3, Trump tweeted, “LeBron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made LeBron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”

The tweet prompted other athletes to react in support of James. Steph Curry said Trump’s tweet was “based in some long-standing racism,” and Michael Jordan, whom Trump referenced in the tweet, said, “I support LJ. He’s doing an amazing job for his community.”

James had already called the president a “bum” in a 2017 tweet supporting Curry, and added, “Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

To be sure, some still say it is risky for James to speak out on politics. The political demonstrations by NFL players have roiled that league and even damaged companies like Papa John’s after its founder criticized the protests. The NBA has managed to avoid the same level of controversy and in-fighting. The league has a rule in place that players must stand during the anthem, and the general thinking is that the players follow it because they feel the NBA and its progressive commissioner Adam Silver encourage them to speak out politically otherwise.

Fellow NBA stars are looking to James now for leadership off the court — both in business and politics. When Yahoo Finance asked Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors to name an athlete who has influenced his thinking in business, past or present, in any sport, he named James first.

“He’s done an amazing job and actually opened up a lot of doors for a lot of us athletes in the route that we’re taking now,” Green said, “in being more involved as partners, as opposed to endorsees.”

LeBron’s influence in the NBA, on and off the court, was the subject of the latest Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast. You can listen here:

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite

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