For basketball superstar LeBron James and business partner Maverick Carter, the pause in pro sports has been anything but quiet.
They formed SpringHill Co. in March after raising $100 million, signing the deal the same day the NBA shut down over Covid-19 fears. The company, a combination of three existing businesses formed in the past decade, has produced shows such as “The Shop: Uninterrupted” on HBO and the limited Netflix series “Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.” And next year it will deliver “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” a follow-up to the 1996 animated Michael Jordan picture.
The company also has collaborated on shoes and apparel, all with what can only be described as an unapologetic agenda. With the killing of George Floyd and the aftermath of nationwide protests, James, Carter and SpringHill are squarely in the middle of a long-delayed national conversation on race and representation.
This week’s Bloomberg Businessweek cover story chronicles how that deal came together. But James and Carter, who sat down for two extensive conversations, have more to say. The men spoke about their experiences growing up, finding their footing in business, and “The Decision” — James’s contentious televised announcement that he was leaving his hometown team and “taking his talents” to the Miami Heat. Below are excerpts from both conversations, edited for clarity and length.
What have you learned about owning your own narrative?
James: That the best teacher in life is experience. It’s that simple. There’s no way you can grow if you don’t have pitfalls in your life, you know? If everything is a bed of roses every day, then how do you know — when you finally hit a roadblock — how to tackle that?
If “The Decision” was the hardest thing that I had to deal with in my life, then I’ll live a hell of a life. Because where I grew up, “The Decision” will fall probably 2,000 on the rank of best to worst.
The NBA has changed more dramatically than other professional sports. Why is that?
Carter: The NFL has always been the biggest sport business-wise in America; the NBA has always been more comfortable with risk. When you’re the challenger, when you’re not No. 1, you’re more comfortable with taking a swing because you don’t have as big a glare on you, as big a spotlight on you. I think the good news is, by the NBA doing that, we’ve seen the NFL doing that. I think baseball is lagging behind a bit.
Do you want to own a team someday?
James: I mean, it would be great. I just want to stay around the game. I love the game of basketball — it’s given so much to me. And if it’s possible to own a team or be part of a team, that would be amazing.
It’s a conversation that’s obviously going to take place a little bit later down the line. But if I’m blessed enough, if I continue to put myself in a position where I’m giving back to the game, I think the game will give back to me.
The landscape is littered with professional athletes — very successful athletes — who brought their friends along with them and it didn’t work out. Why has this worked out for you?
James: The trust that I had in my guys from the beginning, and there’s a saying, “Of what’s known, don’t need to be said.” Us growing up in the same community — we already had that. I already knew that we were on the same page because of our upbringing.
I can go out and play what I do, play basketball and go home to my family. These guys can go into offices and construct meetings and own things and be well respected without me being there. And that is one of the greatest gratitudes for me, personally, that has happened in my life.
Maverick, when did you know that had happened?
Carter: What he was actually saying — without even thinking about it that way — is, “I’m the platform. Now you guys go become more than just the platform. Be LeBron’s friend. Be his brother, but be a businessman. Be a business owner. Become Maverick Carter, yourself, but you can use me to start, to get a boost, because we all need that.”
LeBron has said that “playoff sweat” is different than regular-season sweat. What’s “business sweat” like, Maverick?
Carter: Business sweat is much like playing a sport, which is why I love it because it is a challenge. You find little chips to put on your shoulder, to get up every day and go after a challenge and go after something. It’s also like sports in that there are metrics — there’s real stats. And the best part about business sweat is — what you can compare it to NBA sweat — you get to do it with a group of people that hopefully you like, right? That is ultimately the win in life. If you can win, and win with people that you actually like.
How important is it, right now, to focus on not only who you hire, but what you produce?
James: We all know that we live in a time where it’s a lot of hatred and it’s a lot of pushback and things of that nature. But we want to show when you come together with a group of people that have the same mindset, have the same goal and have the same purity and the same love and the drive, then, you know, great things can happen. I think it’ll always prevail.
And what about this moment, Maverick?
Carter: Hopefully, it’s not just a moment, right? I don’t want to call it a moment. This is what’s needed. This is actually more like what this country should be and what this world should be. I’ve been Black my whole life, right? And pushing to empower all people, and specifically Black people, my whole life.
Our company, we’ve always been about empowering people who feel like us and come from the communities that we come from and want to believe in our mission. And we — the content we’ve created, who we’ve created that content with — has always been about that. People already understood and knew and could feel the essence of what we’re doing. It’s obviously a bit magnified now.
Listen: A Conversation with LeBron James and Maverick Carter
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