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by Sheryl Nance Nash

The Miami Heat are heating up the Eastern Conference, only trailing behind the Boston Celtics at the moment.  LeBron James was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played January 3-9, marking the 28th time he has earned the accolades, the most times a player has earned the honors in NBA history, and it is the second time James has earned the honor as a member of the Heat. Is he having the last laugh already?

Not only is he continuing to prove to be adept at basketball, but in business, he’s got an empire in the making.

“While richer than most, he has the staple deals for someone on top of  his game – a lucrative contract with Nike that was recently renewed and includes a line of footwear and sporting apparel; a drink deal with Coca-Cola, trading cards, and smaller endorsements,”’ said Greg Weisman, a partner at the law firm of Silver & Freedman. Then there’s his management/marketing company LRMR with some of his long-time friends and former high school basketball team members, which markets James as a celebrity and will represent other high profile athletes. A few years ago, James announced a minority investment in Cannondale bicycles, recalled Weisman.

James has made it clear he’s aiming beyond the rafters. “He’s talked specifically about building a billion dollar brand,” said Michael Lewis, an associate professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

What else is under his reign is anyone’s guess. “King James likes to play this pretty close to the vest and for good reason,” said Weisman. “It is well chronicled that most private investment deals by athletes go bad, and the benefit of being a silent owner in a privately held business is that it need not be exposed to the public.” What you don’t hear is the potpourri of questionable investments in various endeavors of friends and family – the type of investments of $100,000 here and $200,000 there that usually bring financial ruin to lesser players, added Weisman. “Either he has been effectively counseled to stay away from those plays or we just haven’t heard about them. And let’s not forget that he has a healthy salary with the Heat – it’s hardly anything to scoff at,” he said of the reported $96 million for five years that he got.

So what savvy business moves are experts applauding? For one, he knows what he doesn’t know and seeks wise counsel. “He consults with Warren Buffett and top financial managers from New York to keep him focused and grounded,” said Weisman. He also has a close knit group of long-time friends who provide guidance.

Justin Harmon, associate professor with the Department of Sport & Entertainment Management at Northwood University Florida Campus gives him kudos for the company he keeps. ”The King’s roundtable consists of people he can trust and whom seem loyal to protecting him, as well as have his best interests at heart. This has allowed him to have a group of individuals to bounce ideas off and get input from.” Of much importance too, said Harmon, he recognizes that his image has value and he has tried to maintain that value himself from almost the beginning of his athletic career.

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