LEBRON by Jeff Benedict Takeaways from one of the greatest athletes of our era

These were the passages that stood out to me.

“He is a 16-year-old from St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, who will be a junior in the fall. Many of the gathered connoisseurs believed that the lad, LeBron James, a 6-foot-7, 210-pound point guard, shooting guard and small forward—sometimes he plays as if he is all three in one, a kind of hoops Swiss Army knife—would have been taken in the first round of the most recent N.B.A. draft, possibly a lottery pick.”

“One of the lessons he’d learned during his career was that it was impossible to live up to other people’s expectations; all he could do was set his own expectations and try to meet them.”

“Another thing he’d learned was the power of silence. He still hadn’t told anyone about his comeback plans. He was keeping all that close to the vest.”

“LeBron listened and nodded. The experience was too surreal to process. The conversation lasted about fifteen minutes. And Jordan dispensed no advice. But he gave LeBron something more valuable than words: his cell phone number. Maverick was stunned. LeBron didn’t know what to say. Jordan’s shoes were on his feet. And now Jordan’s number was in his pocket. At sixteen, LeBron had joined a very select club of people in the world who had direct access to Jordan.”

“That showed that [LeBron] was then a transcendent athlete, that he was crossing barriers that normally they don’t let you cross no matter who you are.”

“Brophy smiled. When football season ended, he was going to miss LeBron, whom he looked at as an old soul. No one else on the team was capable of carrying on an in-depth conversation with him about NFL players from the seventies and eighties. If St. V had offered a class in NFL history, LeBron would have earned an A-plus. One time he was going on and on about Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton. Finally, Brophy asked him how he knew so much about a guy who had retired when LeBron was three years old. “Coach, I’ve got ESPN Classics,” he said, smiling.”

“LeBron had already come to appreciate that there was a lot more to being a professional basketball player than simply playing and practicing—it was a full-time commitment that encompassed a lot of additional responsibilities that many athletes found burdensome, such as dealing with the media. From the moment he entered high school, LeBron had become used to being around sportswriters from the Akron Beacon Journal and the Plain Dealer. They covered all his football and basketball games, and their stories played an important role in raising his profile throughout Ohio. LeBron liked those guys, and he had learned how to talk to them. But now that he was cooperating with Sports Illustrated, he was about to learn an even more valuable lesson—that a picture could be much more potent than words when it came to shaping his image.”

“The two teams were staying at the same hotel in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. On the night before the game, LeBron met up with Carmelo in the lobby. They picked up the conversation right where it had left off the previous summer when they had roomed together in Colorado. By this point, Carmelo was looking for a friend who could be like a brother. LeBron, meanwhile, felt the friendship they were forming could last a long time. It was getting late and they’d been alone for more than two hours when the coach for Oak Hill approached. “I know y’all are friends,” he said. “But you have a game to play tomorrow.” The next day, the atmosphere at the PrimeTime Shootout at Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, New Jersey, had the feel of something much bigger than a high school basketball game. More than eleven thousand spectators and a throng of basketball writers showed up to watch the two best high school players in the country go head-to-head.”

“Meanwhile, the resentment toward the team only escalated. In a sold-out game against crosstown rival Archbishop Hoban at Rhodes Arena, all of the opposing players came out for pregame warm-ups wearing T-shirts that had THE CHOSEN ONE printed on them. Fired up by the gimmick, LeBron and his teammates punished Hoban early, building a big lead. Then the Hoban coach sent in a bench player who was built like a linebacker. He quickly manhandled LeBron, hammering him with a couple of rough fouls. Eddie Jackson, who was sitting courtside next to the St. V bench, didn’t like it. He got up and went toward the Hoban bench, where he started venting. When security intervened, Eddie got more heated. The police ended up escorting him out of the building. St. V won by thirty-nine. Although his team was winning, Coach Dru was overwhelmed. When he had signed on to coach the team, he had never planned on sitting for interviews with Sports Illustrated and ESPN. He had never anticipated that his players would be treated like celebrities—spritzed for photo shoots, talked about on network television as if they were household names, and trailed by autograph seekers, cameramen, and girls. Nor was he prepared for a level of scrutiny and resentment that went far beyond anything Coach Dambrot had experienced in the previous two years. Dru had read a lot of books on coaching, but there was no manual for how to deal with the circus-like atmosphere that engulfed his program. On top of all the media coverage, Dru saw things slipping in practice. Although the team bounced back from the back-to-back losses and started beating teams by wide margins, St. V had lost its sense of urgency. In practice, they were quick to question Dru’s instructions, as if they knew better than he did. And away from the court, the guys were partying. Although he was caught up in the moment, LeBron also realized what was going on. “The Sports Illustrated cover had made us all into rock stars,” he reflected years later, “only reinforcing our sense of our own invincibility.” An incident toward the end of the season crystallized how challenging things had become for Coach Dru. After Romeo used the F-word multiple times in practice, Coach Dru ordered him to do push-ups. Romeo had a favorite retort: “Fuck you.” At wit’s end, Dru kicked him out of practice.”

“But LeBron’s life was hardly free of stress. He simply became adept at cordoning off the more complex aspects of his life. At times, it seemed, everything he touched was a double-edged sword. For instance, he loved seeing himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was so proud that he stockpiled stacks of the magazine in his bedroom. But being compared to Michael Jordan? That felt more like a curse than a compliment. The worst part was that there was no one else who could relate to what he was going through—no one else was being portrayed as the second coming of the greatest basketball player of all time.”

“When Dru looked back on the season, he couldn’t help blaming himself for having gotten too caught up in the wins and losses, rather than focusing on the development of the boys. My job, he told himself, is to help them become men. He felt he had come up short in that department.”

“The conversations that we were having were so much bigger than just basketball. It was just life. Everything from fashion to the hustler’s mentality to family to growing up the way we grew up to music to…. It wasn’t just “Hey, man, it was great to see what you did today in the game.” That shit gets boring and old. The guy was teaching me shit that I thought I knew—but he had more years on me. It got LeBron thinking that perhaps he should make room in his inner circle for one more person: Rich Paul.”

“we’d do this,” one colleague said. “We’re rushing this kid into the spotlight.” Rushing him into the spotlight? Magnus was incredulous. “I’m like, ‘Really?’ ” Magnus recalled thinking at the time. “ ‘The guy’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Did you guys not notice that?’ ” Nonetheless, the financial aspect of the equation had some folks at ESPN asking: “Should we be doing this?” With all the consternation, some of Magnus’s colleagues couldn’t help wondering at the time whether LeBron was worth all the fuss. More than one of them wondered: Is this guy really that good? Undeterred, Magnus forged ahead. He couldn’t vouch for LeBron’s bona fides as an NBA prospect. Magnus had never seen him play live. And besides, Magnus was no x’s and o’s guy. But he saw something that impressed him—instead of going to one of the elite prep schools, such as Oak Hill Academy, that functioned like factories churning out blue-chip high school players, LeBron had chosen to stay in his hometown and play with a bunch of his childhood friends at a little-known, local Catholic school. He isn’t a mercenary for the sake of his own career, Magnus thought. He’s playing at his hometown school with his buddies.”

“came with playing on the most scrutinized high school basketball team in America. The one thing that helped Willie was his decision to run for student body president. He was a long shot to win, but he wanted to show people that there was more to him than just being an athlete. His teammates rallied around him and Willie ended up winning, making him the first African American at St. V to be elected president of a class since the seventies.”

“The day after Eddie Jackson was sentenced to prison, LeBron and his teammates traveled to Cleveland to face Oak Hill Academy. Outside the arena, fans in winter coats boisterously streamed through turnstiles as event staff collected their tickets. Inside, a member of the ESPN broadcast team set the scene for viewers who were tuning in across the country: “A high school game in Cleveland has attracted a crowd of ten thousand here tonight. But it’s not just any high school game. It’s phenom LeBron James against the number-one-ranked team in the country—Oak Hill. LeBron mania goes national tonight.” Standing in a layup line with his teammates during warm-ups, LeBron looked over his shoulder and saw Dick Vitale and Bill Walton near center court, holding microphones and looking into a camera. He knew they were talking about him. And he realized the significance of the moment. When one of his teammates wasn’t sufficiently focused on the warm-up routine, LeBron whispered in his ear, “Pay attention,” and nodded toward Vitale. When LeBron noticed that Vitale had finished his pregame bit for the television audience, he walked toward him, hugged him, and thanked him for coming. Vitale felt LeBron’s overwhelming physical presence—the thick, broad shoulders, the powerful chest, and the rock-hard biceps. But his maturity left a more lasting impression. The teenager thanked me for coming, he thought.”

“It was clear to Vitale that LeBron was a man among boys. He wasn’t just a superior player. He seemed to appreciate the power of television and the significance of performing in front of a national audience. And he appreciated the influential role that people like Vitale played in the game.”

“Sitting courtside beside Lynn Merritt, Nike CEO Phil Knight marveled. A coach can teach a player how to pass, but you can’t teach a player to see. By delivering a perfect bounce pass to a trailing teammate without ever looking over his shoulder, LeBron appeared to have eyes in the back of his head. It was a rare display of basketball artistry that Los Angeles fans had gotten used to seeing from Magic during the Lakers’ Showtime years.”

“threatening to take away her son’s eligibility because she had done something special for him? Now that’s rich, she thought. Angry and embarrassed, Gloria called attorney Fred Nance, who agreed to handle the matter. LeBron was angry, too. The New York Times had pointed out that Gloria lived in public housing. “Asked how she could secure such a loan,” the Times reported, “a person with knowledge of the family’s situation who spoke on condition of anonymity said, ‘LeBron James is collateral enough.’ ” It felt to LeBron like the press was going out of its way to embarrass his mother. But LeBron dealt with insults and adversity differently than his mother did. While Gloria would speak her mind, LeBron kept his emotions bottled up until he got on the hardwood.”

“LeBron never felt threatened by the Hummer investigation. He knew he’d done nothing wrong. But the experience and the way the media covered it went a long way to convincing LeBron and Gloria that journalists just want a piece of you, something for nothing.”

“St. V librarian Barb Wood was not the kind of person to seek out media attention. And she steered clear of controversy. But when she learned that OHSAA had banned LeBron, she couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “People couldn’t wait for him to fail,” she told David Lee Morgan at the Akron Beacon Journal. “They couldn’t wait to knock him down. It’s just so sad because I see him come to school every day and I see how hard he works in class every day. When I found out, it just made me sick to my stomach.”

“Twenty-four hours later, Judge Williams issued his ruling: “LeBron James’ eligibility is restored as of this day, February 5, 2003, and he can begin practicing with the team.” Nance was like a velvet hammer coming down on a mosquito. For LeBron, the experience was a master class in dealing with adversity. It was also a preview of how his athletic superiority and the extraordinary wealth that came with it would afford him access to the levers of power, and how those levers could be pulled to make the wheels of justice move faster to deliver a more favorable outcome. Looking ahead to his upcoming shoe contract negotiations and his NBA career, LeBron felt grateful to Eddie Jackson for his role in bringing Nance into the family. LeBron considered Nance a keeper.”

“Afterward, journalists converged on LeBron. “So tell us, LeBron, did you and your teammates feel any pressure tonight?” a reporter asked. “No pressure at all. A lot of people were asking if we were good enough to be the number one team in the country, and I think we proved tonight that we were,” LeBron said. “I was talking about controversies,” the reporter said. “Have you felt pressure over all of the coverage?” “Nope.” “You’ve complained about the media,” another writer said. “Do you think it’s right to complain? After all, the media made you famous.” “I never complained about the media. Never. I worked hard. Put in all the hours. Anyway, y’all didn’t make me famous. I made myself famous.”

“Around her, he could drop his guard, be a teenager. She was someone he could confide in. For Savannah, there were aspects of dating LeBron that were surreal, not the least of which was the steady presence of photographers, cameramen, and autograph seekers. Going on dates in an $80,000 luxury vehicle was a trip. So was the experience of seeing her boyfriend on magazine covers and television screens. And LeBron was the only boy she’d ever met who had his own high-powered attorney in Cleveland. Yet none of those things were what attracted Savannah to LeBron. She was drawn to his self-confidence and sense of direction. It was reassuring to be with a teenage boy who was so goal-oriented. His life was already mapped out. And while there were a lot of other girls vying for LeBron’s attention, his heart was set on the one who had originally rebuffed him by declining to give him her number. LeBron was never going to let her live that down.”

“With me, perhaps the most highly acclaimed player to ever participate in high school basketball,” Sager said. “LeBron James, first of all congratulations on an outstanding career and a national championship. How difficult was it to handle all the attention and publicity?” “I think for any normal person it would be pretty hard,” LeBron said. “You know, from growing up and having so much adversity in my life, I think it was pretty easy. And with a couple of my teammates and coaches, it made it a lot easier.”

“Most of the stories that had been critical of Gloria were written by journalists who had no firsthand experience with poverty. These sportswriters were predominantly white men with no reference point for what it was like to raise a child on your own as a sixteen-year-old Black girl. Sonny didn’t know what that was like, either. But he’d gotten to know Gloria well enough to see a side of her that the media overlooked. “She could’ve taken hundreds of thousands from various people,” Sonny told the Akron Beacon Journal in the spring of 2003. “There’s nobody from the agents to the financial managers to would-be investors that would not have fronted them whatever they wanted or needed. Gloria didn’t ask for or take anything.” The best chance that Adidas had in landing LeBron rested in the relationship Sonny had established with him and Gloria.”

“So [even now] every time I enter a room, it’s still that thing of: ‘That’s Jay-Z. He used to be the drug dealer from Marcy Projects.’ ” He’d learned to block that out. But still. LeBron never looked at Jay-Z that way. He revered Jay-Z’s artistry and respected his candor. One of the things that impressed Jay-Z about LeBron was that he exhibited no outward signs of disdain or lasting pain from growing up without a father. And despite the hardships that LeBron and his mother had experienced, LeBron had never adopted a fuck-the-world mentality as a defense mechanism in his youth. Rather, LeBron had found his path in fifth grade when a father figure had put a basketball in his hands. And LeBron had never detoured from the path. At eighteen, LeBron’s résumé contained just one thing: basketball player extraordinaire.”

“LeBron’s and Jay-Z’s lives intersected at a time when the artist was also at a crossroads in his career. Long established as the most successful rapper in the world, Jay-Z had cofounded his own record label—Roc-A-Fella Records—which enabled him to capture a significantly larger share of profits and royalties from his music than other recording artists did. He was also working with up-and-coming artists like Kanye West, whose debut studio album was in the works. At the same time, Jay-Z was branching out, launching a clothing line called Rocawear and looking to expand his business interests outside the music industry. He was also in a relationship with twenty-one-year-old pop star Beyoncé, making them one of the most visible couples on the planet. On many levels, Jay-Z had a more complicated life than LeBron did. Yet Jay-Z could see that LeBron’s life was destined to become much more complicated. LeBron had experienced fame much sooner than Jay-Z had. And Jay-Z welcomed the opportunity to take LeBron under his wing.”

“Emboldened by LeBron’s backing, Maverick remembered something his grandmother used to say: “If you got a hunch, bet a bunch.” Maverick had more than a hunch that joining Nike was the safest bet he’d ever make. He withdrew from college, packed his bags, and headed to Oregon.”

“LeBron knew that the negotiations between his agent and Reebok hadn’t ended well. There had been sharp words when Aaron Goodwin went to Reebok’s hotel room in Akron to deliver the news that despite Reebok’s higher offer, LeBron had decided to go with Nike. Krinsky was still smarting when he saw LeBron warming up in a pair of Nikes. LeBron stepped out of line and walked over to him. “Listen, man, I just want to tell you that you guys gave a great pitch,” LeBron said. Krinsky was disarmed. “It’s nothing personal,” LeBron continued. “In the end, I just went with my heart and went with what I thought was right for me.” Krinsky was struck by LeBron’s candor and sincerity. Shit, he didn’t need to do that, he thought as he watched LeBron return to the layup line. This kid is eighteen.”

“I’m God-gifted in one thing, and that’s basketball,” LeBron said. Then he pointed at Jay-Z. “I’m gonna let my man handle the other side.” Jay-Z smiled. “That’s real family right there,” he said. “That’s my boy right there.” LeBron had yet to play an NBA game. Yet his stature in the hip-hop community was soaring. It was a situation that gave Nike’s Lynn Merritt great peace of mind. Nike had run focus groups and conducted consumer surveys, both of which indicated that LeBron’s appeal among consumers transcended age, ethnicity, and demographics.”

“You can’t be a punk,” Silas told LeBron. “When they come at you, you’ve got to go right back at them.” LeBron knew he was a marked man. But he told himself, This is the life I have chosen.”

Platt noted one other key difference. Iverson never treated his inner circle like equals. They were on the payroll, and the vibe between them and Iverson reflected that. LeBron’s inner circle seemed more like a brotherhood of equals.”

“Once I get comfortable with my surroundings out there, it seems like everything just slows down,” LeBron said. “I don’t want to sound cocky when I say this, but it’s like I see things before they happen. I kind of know where the defenders are gonna be. I kind of know where my teammates are gonna be, sometimes before they know.”

He felt that Maverick’s experience in Beaverton had groomed him to do something bigger. And although Maverick didn’t have a business background per se, he woke up every day convinced that he had to prove himself. He made to-do lists and felt like a failure if he got to the end of the day without checking off every item on his list. LeBron knew that his friend wasn’t addicted to money; he was addicted to accomplishing things. Between Maverick’s work ethic and his loyalty, LeBron was convinced that he had the right guy.

“Yet as he sat at his mother’s kitchen table, staring at his best friend, Maverick couldn’t ignore the sense of intrigue and excitement he felt. LeBron was talking about doing something that had never been done in the NBA—cutting ties with his agent, striking out on his own, and starting a company that would handle his endorsement deals and grow his business ventures. And he was entrusting Maverick to take the helm. I gotta go for this, Maverick told himself. I gotta give this a shot. It was a huge leap of faith. LeBron was going to leave his agent, and Maverick was going to leave Nike.”

“Wachter wouldn’t normally have taken on an athlete as a client. But LeBron wasn’t a normal athlete. On top of his NBA salary, he had around $125 million in endorsement deals. There were only three athletes in the world who were earning more money in endorsements than LeBron: Tiger Woods, Germany’s Formula One driver Michael Schumacher, and English soccer star David Beckham. Woods and Beckham were in the prime of their careers. Schumacher was at the end of his. LeBron had barely begun. Yet it wasn’t simply LeBron’s earning capacity that impressed Wachter. Rather, it was LeBron’s entrepreneurial approach and the way his mind worked. To Wachter, LeBron sounded more like a mathematician than a jock. He asked the kind of questions that bankers and investors asked. He’s a numbers guy, Wachter thought.”

“Wachter was impressed with Maverick, too. Maverick was a novice when it came to money and investing. But he was malleable. He asked good questions and was eager to learn. In Wachter’s view, LeBron had chosen wisely in selecting Maverick as a partner. In terms of long-term implications, LeBron’s decision to go with Wachter as his personal investment banker was probably the most pivotal move he made in his basketball career. Wachter’s arrival not only ensured that LeBron had the most sophisticated financial advisor in the NBA, but it also established a conduit for him and his inner circle to meet entertainment moguls, Wall Street titans, and captains of industry. More immediately, however, Wachter helped open LeBron’s eyes to new ways of thinking about endorsement deals.”

“Relying on strategic advice from Wachter and legal advice from attorney Fred Nance, LeBron set up LRMR Management Company, LLC. The acronym comprised the first letters of the first names of LeBron, Rich, Maverick, and Randy. The four of them were partners in the company, and Maverick was named CEO. It was a completely unconventional move that positioned LeBron to go beyond simply getting paid for letting companies use his image to sell products. In the future, he would look to form partnerships with companies by seeking an equity stake. No other athlete was doing anything like that.”

“Gilbert had owned the team for only seven months. But he had already learned a vital lesson of the star system in professional sports: whether watching live or on television, fans are attracted to stars. And the brighter the star, the bigger the draw. Recognizing that he had the brightest star in the NBA on his payroll, Gilbert was willing to do whatever was necessary—including setting aside his own ego at times—to keep his organization aligned with his star player. As a result, Gilbert made accommodations for LeBron that weren’t available to any other player. For instance, Maverick and Rich were granted full access to all restricted team areas. They were also afforded courtside seats for all home games. And Randy Mims had a seat right behind the Cavaliers bench.”

“Normally, agents encourage athletes to seek long-term deals and the maximum amount of guaranteed money. But LeBron’s agent, Leon Rose, was advising him to do the opposite—reject Gilbert’s five-year offer and sign a three-year extension. It would give LeBron all the leverage at the end of the 2009–2010 season. This approach was also consistent with the overall strategic advice coming from LeBron’s investment banker, Paul Wachter, who continued to lean into the idea of LeBron operating as his own corporation. The bottom line was that Dan Gilbert, like every other owner in the NBA, was doing what was in his best financial interests—trying to lock down his biggest asset for as long as possible. LeBron needed to take the same approach with his business decisions, even if that meant that Gilbert wasn’t going to like it.”

“All of this was designed to get LeBron to annunciate more authoritatively. “So your ability to talk and your ability to lead are things I’d like to see you do more of,” Coach K said.”

“For LeBron and Maverick, walking with Buffett was a transformative experience. He’d been going to work at the same office and making investments from behind the same desk for twice as many years as they’d been alive. It was a sobering testament to the power of consistency and discipline over the long haul.”

“Buffett also shared a story about him and Bill Gates that had relevance to LeBron. Shortly after Buffett and Gates had met in 1991, they were asked by Bill Gates Sr. to each write down one word that accounted for their success. Buffett and Gates both wrote down the same word: focus. Gates believed that the thing you did obsessively between ages thirteen and eighteen was the thing that you had the most chance of being world-class at. As a teenager, Gates had focused on software. Buffett had focused on investments. “It gave me a big advantage to start very young,” Buffett explained. The message was simple, yet profound—like Buffett and Gates, LeBron was world-class at basketball in part because he had been obsessed with it since his youth. In fact, LeBron had established his focus on basketball at an even earlier age than Buffett and Gates had started focusing, respectively, on investing and computer software.”

“After a sleepless night, LeBron showed up at the Q for Game 4. Despite being tired, he had an extra bounce in his step, thanks in large part to Bryce’s arrival. It also helped that Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen had flown in and were courtside that night. LeBron and Brady were more acquainted than sports fans realized. A friendly rivalry existed between them, and LeBron got a charge out of playing in front of Brady, who was the only other athlete in American team sports who knew what it was like to be compared to the greatest player of all time. Similar to the way LeBron had grown up idolizing Jordan, Brady had grown up idolizing Joe Montana, who was considered the greatest quarterback of all time. And like LeBron, Brady had set out to reach the heights of his idol. Professionally, LeBron and Brady were still ascending, and they were yoked together in their individual quests to become the greatest of all time.”

“Even when LeBron had to deal with unpleasant situations, he managed to remain even-keeled. After he got dragged into the lawsuit stemming from the loan that Eddie Jackson and Gloria had taken from Joseph Marsh, LeBron didn’t gripe. Without resentment, he looked out for Eddie’s and Gloria’s interests. Although he had his lawyer, Fred Nance, successfully fend off Marsh’s claim for millions of dollars, LeBron ultimately made sure that Marsh was paid in full for the money he had lent Eddie and Gloria. And when Eddie was released from prison, LeBron continued to treat him like a family member.”

“At the same time, LeBron treated Taddeo like she belonged. When Taddeo was around him, he always made a point of introducing her to people in the community. He’s so nice, Taddeo thought. But he isn’t being extra nice to me. He’s that way to everyone. He was the kind of person, she concluded, who wouldn’t change when he got more and more success. “Everywhere I saw him,” Taddeo said, “there was nothing to suggest that he was not totally devoted [to Savannah]. Not even devoted—everyone can be devoted. With him it was just this focus, like ‘I’m going to be the best player that ever lived. So I’m not going to let anything—drugs, drinking, sex, anything—take me down.’ ”

“Prior to Obama’s run, LeBron had never paid much attention to presidential politics. But since he and Savannah had contributed to Obama’s campaign and publicly endorsed his candidacy, LeBron had watched him closely. LeBron knew what it was like to be scrutinized. But President Obama was arguably the most scrutinized person on the planet. Yet he carried himself with a remarkable degree of dignity. LeBron didn’t have many role models, but President Obama inspired him. Being in his presence made LeBron want to work even harder to do good in the community and be a good example for young people.”

“LeBron: Well, I want to win…. Without question I think Danny [Ferry] and the GMs and the ownership has been great. But at the same time, you know, as an athlete and competitor, you want to continue to be successful at the highest level.”

“Before the opening tip, the Yankees players were announced and received a standing ovation. LeBron rose to his feet and clapped as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” played through the sound system. LeBron scored nineteen points in the first quarter. After dropping a fadeaway three-pointer, LeBron slapped Jay-Z’s hand. He closed the quarter with another three at the buzzer. Then he looked at the Yankees players and flashed three fingers. Knicks fans were going crazy. The Cavaliers were up, 40–21. LeBron lived for moments like that. The bigger the stage, the better he performed. The crowd’s reaction felt fulfilling.”

“Shaquille O’Neal had come to Cleveland determined to win another title. He knew when he arrived that LeBron was the toast of the town. LeBron’s stature in Cleveland reminded Shaq of how big he had been in Los Angeles back in the early 2000s when the Lakers were dominating the league. But early on, Shaq also saw something he didn’t recognize—an organization that was totally beholden to one player. LeBron’s influence was so pervasive that the head coach was powerless. “Our coach, Mike Brown, was a nice guy,” Shaq observed. “But he had to live on the edge because nobody was supposed to be confrontational with LeBron. Nobody wanted him to leave Cleveland, so he was allowed to do whatever he wanted to do.” Shaq liked playing with LeBron. He especially appreciated the way LeBron had created such an inclusive culture among the players. “This is the funnest, funniest team I’ve ever been on in my life,” Shaq said. “LeBron, everyplace we go, he’ll send a text—‘Hey, meet us at the steakhouse, eight o’clock, meet us at the movies, we got a party tonight.’ This is a very, very close-knit group.” Yet Shaq sensed the potential for trouble ahead. At one point during the season, Coach Brown was leading the team through a film session. Everyone watched a play where LeBron didn’t hustle back on defense after a missed shot. Rather than saying anything, Coach Brown went to the next play, where Mo Williams basically did the same thing. “Yo, Mo, we can’t have that,” Coach Brown told him. “You’ve got to hustle a little more.” At that point, teammate Delonte West stood up. “Hold up, now,” West said. “You can’t be pussyfooting around like that. Everyone has to be accountable for what they do, not just some of us.” “I know, Delonte,” Coach Brown said. “I know.”

“Conceptually, Dowley loved the idea of giving LeBron his own platform. After all, he was successful enough that he no longer needed to rely on the sports media to make or frame the news. He could make and frame the news himself. He could go to a network like ESPN and set the terms for a one-hour show. But this would be a first. And the traditional media outlets might misinterpret it and even feel threatened by it. Emanuel was well versed in what Dowley was getting at—anytime you do something revolutionary, and people don’t understand it, the easiest thing to do is to criticize it. That had been the story of Emanuel’s career.”

“Dowley just didn’t want to see LeBron get criticized. Neither did Emanuel or Maverick. The three of them brainstormed ways to blunt the criticism. The best idea they came up with was to add another dimension to the opportunity by donating the sponsorship money to kids who play sports. Maverick brought up the Boys & Girls Clubs. LeBron was a big supporter. He and Jay-Z did a lot of work for the clubs behind the scenes. Dowley felt that if they found corporate sponsors, they could easily cover the cost of producing the show and also pass along millions of dollars to the Boys & Girls Clubs. “That’s a good idea,” Emanuel said. Maverick agreed, and he was confident that LeBron would love the concept. Dowley and Maverick agreed to work out all the details. But it was going to require Emanuel’s influence to get ESPN on board. An hour of prime-time programming was a big ask, one that would require sign-off from the network’s top executive, John Skipper. “I’ll call Skipper to get the time,” Emanuel said.”

“NBA commissioner David Stern had caught wind of it and was indignant. Stern wasn’t privy to the corporate-sponsorship aspect and the fact that money generated by the show would flow to the Boys & Girls Clubs. He was focused on the league’s image, and he was convinced that LeBron’s plan was a bad look for the NBA. Stern tried to dissuade LeBron, but that didn’t work. So Stern reached out directly to ESPN president John Skipper, urging not to go through with the idea. That didn’t work, either. Even though ESPN was the NBA’s most important business partner—the network was paying the league $485 million for the rights to broadcast games in the upcoming season—Skipper wouldn’t back away from his decision to give LeBron the airtime. Weighing both sides, Skipper thought it was worth doing the show for relationship purposes with Ari, Maverick, and LeBron. The commissioner’s inability to stop the show solidified his concern that LeBron had too much power. And that didn’t sit well with him.”

“Moehringer had observed that the greatest athletes were fueled by anger. Jordan was notorious for playing with fury. Tom Brady played with an enormous chip on his shoulder after he was skipped over in the NFL Draft. Kobe, Moehringer pointed out, resented Shaq and then resented everyone else after his situation in Colorado. Perhaps LeBron wasn’t angry enough. “Are you a sports psychologist?” LeBron said. Moehringer reminded LeBron that he had previously acknowledged that he might not possess Kobe’s killer instinct. “That still true?” Moehringer asked. “I hope not,” LeBron said. “I don’t think so. I think I’ve gotten to a point now in my career where I do feel like I have a killer instinct.” Moehringer shared his theory: in sports, anger equals success. “That’s an awesome theory,” LeBron said.”

“That night, LeBron sat alone in his home, watching a password-protected video presentation on his iPad. Sent to him by the Miami Heat, it was a prelude to the next day’s meeting. And it was very different from the celebrity sales pitch from the Knicks. The Heat video was more like something put together by a Wall Street firm. It had numbers, statistics, charts, and graphs. As if prepping for an exam, LeBron watched it enough times to memorize it. While LeBron studied, Leon Rose met privately with Miami Heat president Pat Riley. Rose knew that LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh had been talking for months about playing together. It was an idea that had really taken hold during the Beijing Olympics. And it picked up steam during the 2009–2010 season. Riley felt this gave him an advantage. The Heat was one of the only teams in the running for LeBron that had ample cap space to sign him and Wade and Bosh. The key was convincing LeBron, which was why Riley wanted to grease the wheels with Rose before making his pitch.”

“Gilbert didn’t stop there. Later that night, he talked to an Associated Press reporter and got even more personal in his criticism of LeBron. “He has gotten a free pass,” Gilbert told the AP. “People have covered up for him for way too long. Tonight, we saw who he really is.” Gilbert owned the Cavaliers. But he was acting as if he owned LeBron. And now that LeBron had chosen to walk away from the Cavaliers, Gilbert had no reservations about saying the one thing that would cut LeBron to the bone. “He quit,” Gilbert told the AP. “Not just in Game 5, but in Game 2, 4, and 6. Watch the tape. The Boston series was unlike anything in the history of sports for a superstar.” Gilbert’s attack on LeBron was so pointed and so public that even the rival Celtics were shocked. “When Dan Gilbert did that,” said Danny Ainge, “I’ll never forget thinking, ‘Why would you do that?’ ” In professional sports, players come and go. Coaches come and go. It’s the nature of the business. When a player moves on via free agency, the prudent course is for his previous team to be gracious and thank him for giving his all to a franchise. “It’s not about who’s better, or who’s right, or who’s wrong,” Ainge said. “It’s about staying positive. Because you just never know what could possibly happen down the road.”

“In the heat of the moment, Gilbert wasn’t looking down the road. He was busy burning down every bridge that connected LeBron to Cleveland. “It’s not about him leaving,” Gilbert told the AP. “It’s the disrespect. It’s time for people to hold these athletes accountable for their actions. Is this the way you raise your children? I’ve been holding this all in for a long time.”

“It would have been easy to dismiss Simmons’s Antichrist reference as hyperbole. But Simmons had a huge following. And like Dan Gilbert, he made his criticism of LeBron personal. “I blame the people around him,” Simmons said. “I blame the lack of a father figure in his life.” Rich Paul had never cared for Simmons, and he wasn’t surprised by the tone of Simmons’s criticism of LeBron. Simmons had a history with LeBron. It had started all the way back at the 2003 NBA Draft, when sportscaster Mike Tirico had said on the air, “There [LeBron] is with his mom, Gloria. Gloria sacrificed a lot. Gave birth to LeBron when she was sixteen…. On their own at nineteen, living on assistance, food stamps, and now here they are…. It’s a great American story.” In response, Simmons wrote: “What about parents who stayed together, worked hard, provided for their children and put them through school? Since when did not practicing birth control and lucking out because of DNA become a ‘sacrifice’?” As far as Rich was concerned, Simmons was showing his true colors. “A lot of that has to do with race,” Paul said about Simmons. “He wouldn’t have said that about Larry Bird.”

some off-the-cuff remarks by Michael Jordan. After playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada, Jordan was asked about LeBron’s joining forces with Wade and Bosh. “There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry [Bird], called up Magic Johnson and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team,’ ” Jordan said. “In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.” The fact was that Jordan did have a future Hall of Fame teammate in Scottie Pippen, not to mention several other bona fide stars on the Bulls roster, to help him beat his rivals. Moreover, LeBron’s chief rivals were Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant, and he wasn’t calling them up to say, “Let’s get together.” Rather, he had called two of his close friends and Olympic teammates to assemble a team that could compete with the Celtics’ star-laden team that Danny Ainge had assembled and the Kobe Bryant–Coach Phil Jackson juggernaut that had won five championships in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, TNT’s Charles Barkley, a friend of Jordan’s, took a public swipe at LeBron. “He’ll never be Jordan,” Barkley said days after LeBron made his decision. “This clearly takes him out of the conversation…. There would have been something honorable about staying in Cleveland and trying to win it as ‘The Man.’ ” LeBron noted Barkley’s comments. He also noted that Barkley had spent his entire career being the Man on teams—in Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Houston—that never won a championship.”

“From Stern’s perspective, the over-the-top televised announcement had brought out the worst in some fans and triggered some unseemly behavior from individuals who should have known better. Stern couldn’t do much about fans who set fire to jerseys. But he publicly reprimanded Dan Gilbert and fined the Cavaliers organization for Gilbert’s letter and his remarks to the AP. Stern also took issue with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who had held a press conference to publicly condemn Gilbert. “His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality,” Jackson had said. “He sees LeBron as a runaway slave.” Stern felt the slave reference was over the top.”

“The tweets only scratched the surface of what LeBron had experienced since The Decision. The public reaction to him was notably different than what Tiger Woods experienced in the aftermath of his adultery scandal. For nineteen consecutive days—a record that surpassed the terrorist attacks on 9/11—Tiger was on the cover of the New York Post with headlines such as “I’m a Cheetah” and “Tiger’s Wife Turns Tail.” In the media, Tiger was ridiculed and mocked. But Tiger’s situation was personal, and he owned up to his mistakes and apologized to his family and the golf community in a televised speech. When Tiger returned to the golf course after taking a brief hiatus from the sport, he was greeted by huge crowds and rousing ovations. LeBron, on the other hand, had become the most hated man in all of sports. He was relentlessly booed and heckled in arenas throughout the country. It seemed that even people who didn’t follow basketball were rooting against him and the Heat.”

“Absolutely not,” LeBron said, fighting back emotion. “At the end of the day, all the people that are rooting on me to fail, they got to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They got the same personal problems that they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way that I want to live. Continue to do the things that I want to do with my family and be happy with that.”

“Yet when the team lost, it was LeBron’s fault. At least that’s how it felt. Every publication from Sports Illustrated to the New York Times to Slam magazine was dissecting LeBron’s performance. He was trending on Twitter. He was all over ESPN and CNN. The public scrutiny had become too much. There was only so much one man could take. So he turned off his phone. Shut down his social media. Avoided his television. And spent a lot of time listening to Barry White and Curtis Mayfield.”

“From Jay-Z’s vantage point, LeBron had lived his life very carefully, never daring to stray from the straight-and-narrow path to basketball stardom that he’d been on since his freshman year at St. V. He’d spent his entire life in and around Akron, where everything was familiar. Going to Miami had been a big change. He’d been naive to think that it would be fun and that championships would come easily. Now he knew better. The decision to go to Miami had broken the blissful cocoon that LeBron had created for himself in Ohio. Jay-Z’s own life experience had positioned him to help LeBron. Back when they were becoming friends, in 2003, Jay-Z had been at a similar crossroads in his career, where he was questioning a lot of things about himself and his future. He’d had to remind himself, “I love music. Music saves me every day.” During the summer of 2011, Jay-Z reminded LeBron how much he loved basketball, and that basketball saved him every day. The key word that Jay-Z emphasized to his friend was remember. Remember where you came from. Remember what got you to this point in your life. Remember why you love the game. It was simple yet profound advice from one world-class entertainer to another.”

“As part of the agreement, LeBron and Maverick acquired an interest in Liverpool FC, which Forbes ranked as the sixth-most valuable sports team in the world. It was an opportunity that enabled LeBron to become the first active player to own a piece of a professional sports team.”

“LeBron and Wade spent several days discussing how to use their influence to bring attention to the injustice of Martin’s death. In the meantime, civil rights leaders held rallies, millions of people marched in cities across the country, and the Justice Department opened a federal investigation into the killing.”

“On March 23, the Heat were in Detroit to face the Pistons. That morning, President Obama appeared in the Rose Garden to introduce the next head of the World Bank. A reporter asked the president about Trayvon Martin. Unprepared to make a formal statement, the president spoke from the heart. “I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen,” Obama said. “And that means we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.” He added: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

“But when LeBron took the floor in Boston on June 7, 2012, he was a very different player from the one who had faced the Mavericks a year earlier in the NBA Finals. Standing on the parquet floor, he had the eyes of a killer. He never smiled. He didn’t say a word to anyone. He just glared. Looking at him, Pat Riley thought, LeBron looks primal. And that was the LeBron that Riley wanted to see.”

“LeBron could relate to the way Rich felt. He also believed that Rich’s upbringing and unique life experiences had prepared him to become an exceptional agent for young Black players. “A lot of these kids that are being brought into these situations and being drafted, they are first-generation moneymakers, they are from the inner city,” LeBron said. “They are from what we call the hood. And Rich and I are from that as well, so he can relate to these kids. There is nothing they’ve seen that he hasn’t seen.” Rich had something much bigger in mind than simply building an agency. He wanted to change the way business was done in the NBA. But he knew that it was going to be an uphill battle, especially in the beginning, just to convince players to sign with him. Historically, there had been very few Black sports agents. There was a well-entrenched mentality within the Black community, Rich felt, that conditioned young players to expect to see white head coaches and white agents in the rooms where the decisions were being made about their futures. “We have to change that,” Rich said.”

“LeBron agreed. And he was prepared to do something that would accelerate Rich’s career aspirations and lend instant credibility to his friend as an agent. LeBron told Rich that if he was ready to leave CAA, LeBron was ready to leave with him.”

“Together, LeBron, Maverick, Rich, and Randy were doing a very American thing—inventing opportunities. LeBron was a new kind of superstar athlete, one who had both the desire and the economic might to change the business model of the NBA and to be a power player in Hollywood while he was in the heyday of his basketball career. No athlete had ever been able to realize such grand ambitions while maintaining mastery of his sport.”

“Let me just say one thing about these guys,” Obama said. “There’s a lot of focus on what happens on the court. But what’s also important is what happens off the court. And I don’t know all these guys. But I do know LeBron and Dwyane and Chris.” LeBron felt chills as the president spoke. “One of the things I’m proudest of is that they take their roles as fathers seriously,” Obama continued. “And for all the young men out there who are looking up to them all the time, for them to see somebody who cares about their kids and is there for them day in and day out, that’s a good message to send. It’s a positive message to send, and we’re very proud of them for that.”

“LeBron mentioned that one of his best friends, Chris Paul, played for the Clippers. “I can only imagine what’s going through his head,” LeBron said before pointing out that the NBA was too high-profile to let this slide. “There is no room for Donald Sterling in our league,” he said. The reporters in the room immediately sensed the magnitude of the moment. LeBron played for the Heat. But he was the ambassador for the sport. And he had the self-awareness to recognize that his words mattered. A reporter asked a follow-up question. “There are only thirty owners and four hundred–plus of us,” LeBron said. “I can only imagine if a player came out and said something of that stature what would happen to us as players. So I believe in [Commissioner] Adam [Silver]. I believe in the NBA and they have to do something, and do something very fast and quickly before this really gets out of hand. Like I said, there is no room for Donald Sterling in our league. There it is.” Minutes later, Sun Sentinel sports columnist Ira Winderman tweeted: “LeBron James, ‘There is no room for Donald Sterling in our league.’ ” Other journalists tweeted it. Headlines appeared. LeBron’s opinion went viral. The Heat won that night. But that was beside the point. Standing in a cramped locker room in North Carolina, a Black athlete had called for the governing body of a sports league to strip a white billionaire of his ownership of a team. It was an inflection point in American sports that marked the beginning of a change in the power dynamic between athletes and owners.”

“LeBron heard Riley loud and clear. But he didn’t appreciate being lectured. It bothered LeBron that when a player had an opportunity to decide his own fate, he faced questions and criticism. But when a team executive traded or cut players, it was considered business. LeBron shared Riley’s view about dynasties. LeBron was a basketball historian. He knew all about the Lakers and the Celtics and the Bulls. And after four years in Miami, LeBron had personally experienced what it took to win championships. LeBron also knew that the Heat were primed to win more titles and that if he stayed with Wade and Bosh in Miami, he stood the best chance of winning as many titles as Magic or Jordan.”

“The longer they’d been together, the more LeBron had valued Maverick’s instincts. It was Maverick who had struck up the relationship with Jimmy Iovine, which had led LeBron to go into business with Iovine and Beats back in 2008. And in the spring of 2014, while the Heat had been in the playoffs, Apple had acquired Beats for $3 billion. At the time of the Apple acquisition, LeBron’s equity stake in the audio products company was valued at $30 million. In LeBron’s mind, going into business with Beats had been the best financial decision he’d made since signing with Nike at the end of his senior year of high school. He supported Maverick’s relocation to Hollywood.”

“After LeBron had left Cleveland in 2010, Gilbert vowed to never let a player obtain so much leverage over him again. But Gilbert knew that the only way he was going to get LeBron back was to acquiesce. Privately, Gilbert couldn’t help admiring the fact that LeBron had the balls to make take-it-or-leave-it demands, and the smarts to insist on renewable contracts after each year. LeBron’s team had mastered the ins and outs of the salary cap, and they had the foresight to realize that the numbers were going to go up exponentially in 2017 when the league entered a new TV deal with the networks. By not locking into a long-term contract the way Kyrie Irving had, LeBron stood to make a lot more money through one-year contracts.”

“LeBron had learned a lot in Miami. Especially in terms of understanding what it took to reach the summit of the NBA and capture a title. He wouldn’t repeat the mistake he’d made of brashly predicting that the Heat would win at least seven championships when he’d joined the team. This time he wanted to manage expectations. “I’m not promising a championship,” he said in his SI.com essay. “I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now.” Even for the Heat team with superstars and a roster of veteran role players, the mountain had been a steep climb. Now, other than LeBron, the Cavs didn’t have anyone who had breathed that rare air. Assembling a championship-caliber team and getting it in shape to go the distance was going to be a process. Step one was forming a nucleus of stars. LeBron had no doubt that twenty-two-year-old Kyrie Irving was going to be an excellent wingman. Although Irving lacked D-Wade’s experience, he possessed rare talent. A magician with the basketball, he had the best handle in the NBA. And for a six-foot-two point guard, Irving had an uncanny ability to get to the rim and score. LeBron saw an opportunity to mentor Irving and help him become a bona fide superstar.”

“But the Cavs needed a third star, and LeBron knew whom he wanted. Hours after announcing his decision to return to Cleveland, he reached out to Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love. They had played together on the US Olympic team that had won the gold medal in London. Although Love wasn’t a free agent, LeBron knew he was frustrated in Minnesota, where he’d been a three-time all-star. In 2013–2014, Love had been one of the top scorers in the league, averaging more than twenty-six points per game. He had also averaged twelve rebounds per game. Despite Love’s impressive numbers, LeBron was more interested in his exceptional basketball IQ. He’d fit well with LeBron and Irving. He’s a great piece, LeBron thought.”

“But LeBron hadn’t forgotten what Pat Riley had told him back in 2010: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” The main thing for LeBron was to deliver a championship to Cleveland. So, behind the scenes, he continued to orchestrate personnel moves for the Cavs. Step two in his process was recruiting some veteran role players with championship experience who could complement him, Irving, and Love.”

“They tuned in to see stars perform. And LeBron was the biggest draw in the game. Any number of franchises and cities would have rolled out the red carpet for him. But he had chosen Cleveland. He was the only player who could single-handedly turn the Cavaliers into an instant title contender. In that respect, Gilbert needed him a lot more than he needed Gilbert. LeBron knew that he was in a position of strength. And he saw it as an opportunity. At the start of the season, when the NBA announced $24 billion in new television deals with ESPN and TNT, he spoke up. He wanted every owner in the league to know that the next round of collective-bargaining negotiations between the owners and the players was going to be different. Last time around, the owners had extracted concessions from the players union by insisting that the league couldn’t afford some of the players union’s demands. “The owners were telling us that they were losing money,” he told the New York Times in October 2014. “There is no way they can sit in front of us and tell us that right now.”

“LeBron ignored the royal dustup. He cared a lot more about the league’s response to his decision to wear a T-shirt with a message on it. “I respect Derrick Rose and all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues,” Commissioner Adam Silver told the press. “But my preference would be for our players to abide by our on-court attire rules.” Silver was walking a political tightrope. But the next day, Kobe Bryant arranged for the entire Lakers team to wear the I CAN’T BREATHE shirts during warm-ups before a game in Los Angeles. After LeBron, Kobe was the most influential player in the league. He rarely spoke out. But in this instance he went out of his way to dismiss the notion that his decision to wear the shirt was a comment on race relations in America. “I think it would be a serious disservice to limit this to a race issue; it’s a justice issue,” Bryant told the press. “You are kind of seeing a tipping point right now, in terms of social issues.”

“Absolutely,” LeBron said. “And the talk is, ‘You be respectful. You do what’s asked. And you let them do their job. And we’ll take care of the rest after. You don’t have to boast and brag and automatically think it’s us against the police.’ ” Guthrie had hit on something that mattered deeply to LeBron. “I’ve had one or two encounters with the police in my life that were nothing,” he continued. “But sometimes you just got to shut up. It’s that simple. Just be quiet and let them do their job and go on about your life and hopefully things go well.” “For everybody,” Savannah chimed in.

“The Cavaliers, meanwhile, struggled to play up to LeBron’s standards. They were the top team in the Eastern Conference. Nonetheless, midway through the season, the team fired head coach David Blatt and replaced him with Tyronn Lue, who was more popular among the players. In the second half of the season, the team lost more games under Lue than it had under Blatt. LeBron was at wit’s end. Although he was living in Los Angeles and had his hands full running SpringHill, Maverick Carter kept close tabs on the situation in Cleveland. He recognized what was happening. Some of the Cavs players weren’t as committed as LeBron felt they should be. But Maverick also knew that LeBron was a perfectionist. Toward the end of the regular season, Maverick called him. “You get paid a lot of money to do something you’re better at than anybody else in the world,” Maverick told him. “So just do that. Don’t worry about this guy or that guy, or what anybody else is. Just play.”

“LeBron was playing a game within the game. He’d been to the NBA Finals seven times, and he knew how hard it was to win back-to-back titles. He also understood that a seven-game series is a battle of attrition, and mental discipline plays a big part in who prevails. The Warriors were acting like a team that was entitled to the trophy. LeBron thought that was a big mistake. After the Cavaliers arrived in Oakland, the NBA announced that Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5. He’d been retroactively assessed a flagrant foul for a “retaliatory swipe of his hand to the groin” of LeBron. As a stand-alone incident, Green’s flagrant foul didn’t warrant a suspension. But Green was a provocateur, and earlier in the postseason he’d twice been assessed flagrant fouls, once for throwing a Houston Rockets player to the floor, and once for kicking an Oklahoma City player between the legs. Under the NBA’s rules, Green’s third flagrant foul during the playoffs automatically triggered a one-game suspension.”

“The Cavs were much more physical, and the Warriors never matched their energy level. During one stretch in the second half, LeBron scored eighteen straight points. He wasn’t just dominating the Warriors. He was bullying them. In the fourth quarter, when LeBron should have needed a breather, he told Coach Lue, “I’m not coming out.” Then, with four minutes remaining and his team up by thirteen, Curry drove to the basket and head-faked, hoping to get LeBron up in the air. But LeBron didn’t bite. Instead, he waited for Curry to attempt a layup and swatted his shot out-of-bounds. He glared at Curry and barked a message: Get that weak shit out of my house! The Q erupted. It had never felt so good to be a Cavs fan.”

“Similarly, LeBron’s willingness to use his resources and his platform to effect social change had established him as a leader whose voice carried great weight well beyond the NBA. A few weeks after his remarks at the ESPYs, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to a preseason game. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. These are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Several professional athletes, including members of the Women’s National Basketball Association, started kneeling during the anthem to show solidarity with Kaepernick. But LeBron took a different tack and chose to stand for the anthem. Unlike the NFL, the NBA had a rule requiring its players to stand during the anthem. But that wasn’t why LeBron chose to stand. “That’s who I am, that’s what I believe,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect and don’t agree with what Colin Kaepernick is doing. You have the right to voice your opinion, stand for your opinion, and he’s doing it in the most peaceful way I’ve ever seen someone do something.”

“I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window,” LeBron told ESPN. “I never spit on a kid. I never had unpaid debt in Las Vegas. I never said, ‘I’m not a role model.’ I never showed up to All-Star Weekend on Sunday because I was in Vegas all weekend partying. All I’ve done for my entire career is represent the NBA the right way. Fourteen years. Never got in trouble. Respected the game. Print that.” It was jarring to hear a player speak so candidly about another member of the NBA family, and the media anticipated retaliation. A couple of nights later, Barkley responded on TNT’s Inside the NBA: “I have no problem with what LeBron said…. I did some stupid things in my life. That being said, I have never said anything personal about a guy. And I’m never going to. Ever!” Shaquille O’Neal, who was Barkley’s broadcast partner on TNT, reminded him on the air that he had made it personal when he had said that LeBron didn’t like to compete. “You took it personal with that man,” O’Neal said. “And that man took it personal with you.”

“With four characters and one space, LeBron’s “U bum” tweet had redefined the way athletes engaged in political speech. And although it hadn’t been his intention, he was now front and center in a battle between athletes and the president over race and social justice. The New York Times ran the headline “Trump Attacks Warriors’ Curry. LeBron James’s Retort: ‘U Bum.’ ” The New Yorker’s David Remnick wrote: “How is it possible to argue with the sentiment behind LeBron James’s concise tweet at Trump: ‘U Bum’? It isn’t.” And LeBron didn’t back away from what he had said. When the Cavaliers had their Media Day during training camp, the press asked whether he regretted calling the president a bum. LeBron said he didn’t. “He doesn’t understand the power that he has for being the leader of this beautiful country,” LeBron said. “He doesn’t understand how many kids, no matter the race, look up to the president of the United States for guidance. For leadership. For words of encouragement.” LeBron paused. “That’s what makes me more sick than anything—that we have someone, this is the number one position in the world. You guys agree?” LeBron looked around the room at the reporters. “Being the president of the United States is the most powerful position in the world,” he continued. “And we’re at a time when the most powerful position in the world has an opportunity to bring us closer together as a people and inspire the youth and put the youth at ease, saying that it’s okay for me to walk down the street and not be judged because of the color of my skin or because of my race. He has no recognition of that, and he doesn’t even care!”

“LeBron elaborated. “Our president is kind of trying to divide us.” “Kind of?” Lemon said. “Yeah, he is. I don’t want to say kind of. He is dividing us. And what I noticed over the last few months is that he’s used sports to divide us. That’s something I can’t relate to because I know that [playing] sports was the first time I was ever around someone white.” LeBron used the opportunity to suggest that sports had a way of breaking down racial barriers, as it did for him as a teen with white students. “I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them,” he said. “And they got an opportunity to learn about me, and we became very good friends.” Hours after the interview aired, President 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!”

“LeBron looked around at the room full of women. “This pretty girl right here,” he said, nodding at his daughter, “this is my rock. People always told me, ‘If you ever have a girl, she’ll change you.’ I was like, ‘Nah. Impossible. Ain’t nobody changing me.’ Then three years ago this bright spot happened in our family. And not only did she change me, but she made me a better person—a more dedicated person, a stronger person. I guess a more sensitive person that realized that I have so much more of a responsibility to women in general. So, thank you, Zhuri. I love you, baby girl.” Savannah beamed.”

“On January 6, 2021, LeBron watched on television as a mob of Trump supporters stormed and ransacked the US Capitol. LeBron couldn’t help noticing that the mob was predominantly white and that there were no troops or reinforcements to help the overwhelmed Capitol police force. The next day, LeBron appeared at a postgame press conference wearing a T-shirt that said DO YOU UNDERSTAND NOW? “We live in two Americas,” he told the media. “And if you don’t understand that or don’t see that after seeing what you saw yesterday, then you really need to take a step back.” He reflected on the violent images from the previous day. “If those were my kind storming the Capitol,” he added, “what would have been the outcome? And I think we all know. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts—we already know what would’ve happened to my kind if anyone would have even got close to the Capitol, let alone storm inside the offices.”




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Purpose: I create an empowering context for curious and hungry people looking for fulfillment, experiences, and creativity. We do this by developing their growth mindset, introducing self-love, and powerful group experiences. It results in people with strong boundaries, resilient mental health, and practical life skills

People leave with the ability to land their dream job, have autonomy and flexibility with their lifestyle, travel the world, and create from their heart and soul.


Davidson was once broke, insecure, low-confidence, and frustrated by doing all the wrong activities. Addicted to drugs, validation, and wallowing in self-pity. No relationship to family, and at the mercy of other people’s suggestions and opinions.

It was hell.

After spending $100k hiring different coaches, traveling the world doing workshops around the world, reading>1000 books, and through curiosity, have created the most effective system to remove people from that situation. My life’s work is to bring joy and abundance to people who as on a similar path as I was and bring back the joy and abundance of their life.

Through shared experiences and storytelling, I inspire and model behaviors that lead to a richer, more fulfilled life full of joy, experiences, passion, and ecstasy from the richness of relationships and being able to experience the depths of the human experience.

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