By Weston Blasi, MarketWatch
LeBron James has made $272 million so far in his career, and is set to make another $117 million by the time his current contract with the Los Angeles Lakers ends in 2022. And he has delivered, winning three NBA championships and four NBA MVP awards, among many other accolades. He’s also capitalized on his success as much as any other athlete today, realizing that with his fame and wealth he could do more than just invest in others.
In the recently published biography of James, LeBron, Inc.: The Making of a Billion-Dollar Athlete , ESPN’s Brian Windhorst , who has covered James since he was a high-school freshman, outlines the biggest financial wins of LeBron James’s career.
By making timely investments and leveraging his influence, James, 34, has become one of the wealthiest athletes in the world. According to Forbes , James was the world’s 8th highest-paid athlete last year, when he made $89 million — $36 million from salary and $53 million from endorsements. And he’s estimated to have a net worth of $450 million .
Here are James’s four most successful investments.
Choosing Nike over Reebok
As the most hyped young basketball player in decades, James was drafted first overall In the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers straight from high school. Shoe companies were eager to ink James to one of the biggest endorsement contracts ever.
To illustrate just how famous James was as a teen, celebrities attended his Catholic high school games , and he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 17-years-old. Shoe executives were desperate for James to wear their brand’s logos.
Among the companies offering him a contract were Adidas /zigman2/quotes/203671926/delayed ADDYY -1.84% at $60 million, Nike /zigman2/quotes/203439053/composite NKE +1.15% at $87 million and Reebok at a whopping $115 million, per Brian Windhorst.
In 2002, Nike was the leading shoe brand in the NBA coming off a lucrative partnership with Michael Jordan. James had dreams of wearing the swoosh, but to do so meant passing up an extra $28 million.
Reebok wanted to add James to its collection of star athletes that included Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Venus Williams. After a long period of pitch meetings and private jet rides for him and his friends, James chose to accept the lower offer from Nike. Brian Windhorst wrote that James sided with who he thought would be a better long-term partner in Nike over a higher initial offer from Reebok.
And James clearly made the right decision. His most recent contract with Nike (while the exact terms are not fully known) is reportedly a lifetime deal that could exceed $1 billion . Meanwhile, as of 2019, Reebok doesn’t currently sponsor any NBA players.
Asking for an ownership stake in Beats by Dre
Jesse D. Garrabrant
In 2006, music mogul Jimmy Iovine and his friend Andre Young, more commonly known by his rapper name Dr. Dre, started a headphones company called “Beats by Dre.” Iovine and Dre wanted to partner with James in an effort to boost sales. But Beats had a hard time gaining momentum in the mid 2000s.
James, a hip-hop junkie, was interested in working with the brand, according to Windhorst. But instead of just securing a typical sponsorship deal with Beats where he could be seen wearing the headphones in public, James and his team went another route.
James and his business manager Maverick Carter secured a partnership that included elements of a traditional deal (commercials, etc), but also included an ownership stake in the company. This would become a common thread of James’s business dealings over the years.