The Once & Future Media King
The Once & Future Media King

In 40 years, will we remember LeBron James played basketball?

As the hologram clock clicks from 5:59 to 6:00 a.m., “Fly Like an Eagle” builds over the bedroom speakers. The window shades rise revealing a buzzing Los Angeles several miles below. The home is one in a row of many massive, floating domes, hovering over the city in its own climate-controlled ecosystem.

“Good morning, Mr. James,” the male British voice smoothly offers over the sound system, “it’s Tuesday, September 30th, 2058. The weather in the city is predictably smoggy, but here of course, we are experiencing total perfection. First on your agenda today is the interview. The reporter will arrive in one hour’s time. Shall I prepare breakfast?”

“Thank you, Alfred. That would be great. And like I’ve told you many times, at least when it’s this early in the morning –– please call me LeBron.”

The aged athlete approaches his vanity sink as if floating on an invisible moving walkway. The new bionic knees remind him of his time on the court. He peers into the mirror as a man of 73 and through his eyes, a lifetime of accomplishment smiles back.

What am I going to tell this woman? He thinks. The interview was a favor for some old friends – something he seldom grants. After a life in the spotlight, personal time had become an even more precious commodity. In the mirror’s reflection, his eyes catch a glint of metal hardware affixed to the bedroom wall.

A swell of nostalgia comes over him as he approaches the rows of gleaming gold.

Emmys. Platinum records. Trophies. Olympic medals. Oscars. Michelin stars. Signed guitars.

And on the wall, a collage of photos featuring himself shaking hands with every major political figure in the past four decades.

“Just a little kid from Akron,” he says, to no one in particular.

* *

“Thank you for the time, Mr. James. I really appreciate you sitting down with me,” says the impressionable female journalist.

“Of course, Rumi. Anything for your parents. Hope they’re well?”

She laughs. “Still trying to take on the world. Shall we begin?”

* *

Rumi Carter-West, as published in Kevin Durant’s ThirtyFive News:

TFN: Mr. James, first of all, congratulations on your recent Presidential commemoration. You just celebrated the 10,000th student graduate to the I Promise School, a now nation-wide mainstay providing world-class education to children in need. Looking back, did you anticipate this type of growth when the program was first introduced?

LJ: You know, I was still very young when we launched I Promise in 2018. At that time, I was just beginning to diversify. People still thought of me primarily as a basketball star.

[They share a laugh.]

TFN: So many people I meet today never saw you play, never even knew you were as dominant as you were. They know you as the Oscar-winning producer, actor, director. The influential music mogul. The Michelin chef. The entrepreneur. Basketball is almost a former life. Looking back at the man in his thirties, when basketball was your primary career, were you anxious about how to approach a new phase of your professional life?

LJ: When I reached my thirties, I finally acknowledged that my basketball career was one day going to end. And then at that point, I’d have hopefully more than half of my life left to live. What was I going to do? Guest host a sports show? Buy a team? It all seemed so one-dimensional, so unoriginal. I knew I had talent beyond being an athlete. I’ve always been an equally creative and business-focused guy. I was 28 when my buddy Rich Paul and I launched Klutch Sports Group. And then Maverick Carter and I created Springhill Entertainment in 2008 … I was only 24. So when the end of the NBA was in sight for me, all of those ventures came into even greater focus.

TFN: The first chapter in what ended up being a much longer book.

LJ: You know when I first moved to LA, I remember sitting in an interview much like this one. I was to look back on my career. I was only 33! I said, to the Hollywood Reporter I think it was: “I’m going to continue playing basketball at a high level, continue to give back to my community, and make great content for people to fall in love with.”

TFN: Hence all of the Oscars on the wall.

LJ: [Laughs] I definitely didn’t anticipate those.

TFN: So the man of 33 – how did he plan to actually accomplish these goals? Like many celebrities who stop playing, or phase out of the spotlight, how did you expect your influence to continue?

LJ: Even at the beginning of my basketball career, I could tell there were many people around me who wanted to control my every move. Tell me what to think, what to say or what brands to associate myself with. Look, I was just a kid from Ohio. Even as my fame grew, that all felt very foreign to me. Unauthentic. Why couldn’t I do it all myself? I knew my strengths and I knew my plans. So I just kind of took control of it all. Flipped the script, so to speak. I wanted to create a platform where I made the content I wanted to make, instead of tugging at the sleeves of the “media pros who knew better than a basketball player.” And yes, I did get that a lot.

TFN: Hence, the rapid growth and influence of Springhill Entertainment and all other content ventures to follow.

LJ: Yes, Springhill, our production business, was the beginning. Beyond its success as a company, I think it helped others like me, those who felt their talents were more multi-dimensional than sports, or music, or whatever their “primary careers” were at the time, recognize that they were the brand. And that they could be the center of their own media companies. Whether behind the scenes or in front of the camera.

TFN: Well of course, your philosophy (and others like you) at the time revolutionized the way we look at media. And who can own media platforms. It’s crazy to think that the individual artists used to be so chained to the brands, the labels or the leagues.

LJ: Yes, that’s the way it was. We still work closely with all of those entities, of course, but the role of power has certainly shifted. And that’s how it should be. The individuals hold the true influence – they’ve got the loyal audiences. And at the end of the day, they’re the ones who are speaking. So why shouldn’t they be in control? I applaud those who had the foresight, decades ago, to chart the path for so many others. Kevin – your employer – he’s now running the largest and most influential entertainment news outlet in the world. It started with him wanting to restructure his relationships with brands and their endorsements. And your parents! Remember when On the Run was just a tour?

TFN: Not exactly, I was only two! But yes, I get your point. It’s hard to ignore OTR and its role in shifting power back to the artists.

LJ: Earlier, you asked me if I anticipated any of this. No way. When you go into hiding for three years and emerge as a chef chasing a Michelin star – that’s not what small forwards did back then. But I knew that people would follow me on that journey. No matter if I failed or succeeded, the brand they were connected to was just me – another imperfect person just like them. And they were exposed to my story through my platform, pure and unfiltered.

TFN: Well you were certainly influential in changing perceptions in the media world.

LJ: And I’m glad to have had a part in changing that perception. I really believe it. Whoever you are – a basketball player or a young girl who can sing – If you have an audience that cares about you, don’t wait around for someone else to build your platform. Don’t wait to be discovered. You have every bit of power to do it yourself.

TFN: Absolutely. Thank you for the time, Mr. James.

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