The internet was set ablaze today with news that LeBron James had officially become… a billionaire. This, of course, came as shocking news to no one. With his multitude of endorsement deals, real estate investments, teams played for and teams partially owned, most of us, who are unfortunately not billionaires, assumed he already was.
LeBron became the second NBA player to become a billionaire after, obviously, Michael Jordan. While it’s surprising not to find Magic Johnson’s name on this list as he is partial owner of the Dodgers along with so many other things Los Angelean, I guess Magic needed to star in his own version of Space Jam to push him over the top. If he decides to go that route, Magic might also want to consider buying the production company that releases the film as LeBron’s SpringHill Company, which released Space Jam, is worth over $300 million. Combine that with salaries made and endorsements signed, and James is now, as Front Office Sports calls it, “the first active three-comma player.” To put things in perspective, Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, David Beckham, and Christian Ronaldo are all not billionaires.
But this news of LeBron James making THAT much money got me thinking.
How does one officially become a billionaire? These are figures I simply do not understand. As this news was released in early June, did it take that long for the IRS to tally his last return? Do that many zeroes take that much more time to calculate? Did they hire a Tax Force specifically for LeBron and when it was all said and done, did the IRS and Ed McMahon show up at his marbled doorstep, one to grant him a giant Happy Gilmore-sized check and the other eager to take it away?
I had visions of LeBron James in one of those game show vacuum tubes, grabbing voraciously for ten thousand-dollar bills as if he were dunking on opponents. And to think, I cringe every time the Dow Jones drops a half a percentage point.
Back in the day when Kevin Garnett signed his first huge contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves (it was huge for the times), my friends and I coined the term “Garnett Money.” He was after all, the Big Ticket. KG signed that contract in 1999. He would make $126 million dollars playing basketball in downtown Minneapolis over the next six years.
That doesn’t sound like much these days. Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo just signed contracts for twice that amount. But to LeBron, those deals are a mere pittance. He has redefined what the active professional athlete can do both on and off the court.
Whether you like LeBron or not, he has become the gold standard. He has successfully turned his name, image, and likeness into a brand, which means neither he, nor any one named James who lives in his household, will ever have to worry about their next meal, which will likely include steak, lobster, and lots of red wine.
The move to Los Angeles has done LeBron well. While underachieving by most accounts this season, he’s won one title, will suit up again next year for a shot at another and will chase down one of the greatest Lakers ever for the all-time scoring title.
In the upcoming season, his 19th, LeBron James will surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in total points scored. LeBron is 1,325 behind Kareem which means by scoring around 30 points per game (which is what LeBron does) and staying healthy (which is also what he does), he’ll pass Kareem sometime around mid-season. This record will mean more to him than all his billions as LeBron, along with most basketball greats, is also a hoops historian. He understands his impact on the game and has turned that into a fortune. LeBron’s final chapter remains unwritten. It will assuredly include a lot more zeroes.
Chris Rock once joked there’s a difference between rich and wealthy. James has officially entered the wealthy pantheon all the while playing the game that he was born to play… and I’m not referring to basketball. It will be interesting to see how many players follow in his footsteps, using their position to establish a seemingly endless supply of wealth. James, like Jordan before him, has set the bar high for the modern professional athlete. He has also paved the way.
If you’re reading this, at some point in your life, you’ve engaged in a debate over who was better: Jordan or LeBron. I’m not here to convince you one way or another.
I am here to tell you that they now live on the same block and it’s a very swanky neighborhood.