LeBron James looks destined for team ownership as links to Liverpool and FSG continue to grow


LeBron James is a phenomenon.

Not since Michael Jordan has basketball had a player who has transcended the sport so much. James’ exploits on the hardwood will stand the test of time. Four NBA Championships with three different teams, over an 18-year professional career that has included countless individual accolades, is creating a remarkable legacy.

At 36 he’s still playing and still producing. The Los Angeles Lakers are the current beneficiaries of his almost other-worldly talent, and while his appearance in Space Jam: A New Legacy may not deliver at the Oscars for James, it is another demonstration of his global appeal. It’s just another way in which he is following in the footsteps of Jordan, the Chicago Bulls great who was the first athlete to truly transcend sport and become a brand of his own: something that turned him into a billionaire after his own playing days had finished.

James is eyeing a similar route. For some time, he has had designs on building something major to fill that basketball-shaped void when he finishes playing. Having built an entertainment business (SpringHill Entertainment Co) worth an estimated $750m, as well as putting numerous other lucrative business deals in place, James looks set to become an even bigger deal off the court than he was on it.

He is, of course, a self-confessed Liverpool fan. From speaking on the Reds’ achievements, wearing Liverpool (and Nike, obviously) apparel and having held a two per cent stake in the club from 2011 until March 2021, he has had a long affinity with the Reds. But how could that manifest itself in the future? Could we see James in a position of power at boardroom level in sport in the future, and will it be at Liverpool?

James is obviously stepping up his off-court interests.

Earlier this month it was reported in the US that Nike, who sponsor James in a lifetime $1bn deal, were part of a group taking a ‘significant minority’ stake in James’ SpringHill Entertainment Co. The collaborators on this deal? Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group, and FSG partners RedBird Capital Partners. The connection goes even deeper, given that James built Springhill with FSG partner and long-time friend Maverick Carter.

Back in March, James converted his two per cent stake in Liverpool — worth in excess of $40m in 2021 — into around a one per cent stake of Liverpool owners FSG. This followed the $750m capital injection into FSG from RedBird, and has put the pieces in place for the future when it comes to the basketball icon. It is a future that has FSG, RedBird and Nike involved, and given how important that Liverpool remain to FSG, being the most valuable asset in their portfolio (worth more than their Boston Red Sox baseball team), it seems likely that the Reds may form part of his vision, especially given his own personal support for the club.

He is still a world class athlete performing an an elite level, and until that starts to slow down then basketball remains front and centre of James’ thoughts. But when it ends, what happens? He has his business interests but what about keeping his love of sport close at hand — how will he espouse those two things, and will Liverpool feature?

FSG’s hierarchy of principal owner John W Henry and Reds chairman Tom Werner are both heading up the operation for the foreseeable future, but with both men in their early 70s and FSG talking of their plans for ‘FSG 3.0’ there is a reasonable assumption to be made that there will have to be some element of succession planning, albeit with slightly less drama and better available options than those Logan Roy might have.

The potential SpringHill Entertainment Co deal is the latest clue as to possible future direction, with the simpatico nature of the deal tying in with all the parts that look set to be major factors behind Liverpool for the coming years.

Jordan took the plunge into sports team ownership fully in 2010, taking control of the Charlotte Hornets NBA franchise having taken a minority stake in it four years earlier. Like James, Jordan had an existing relationship with the team he became involved with, having moved to North Carolina and spent his formative years there from 1968, going on to play college basketball there.

There are some who see James’ foray into FSG as something of an entrée into the world of sports team ownership, getting to see how it call comes together, the challenges involved, what works and what doesn’t and how change can be implemented. Through having a small stake in the ownership of FSG and, ergo, Liverpool, the Red Sox and the Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR team, James gets to see all that while having a seat at the table, watching and learning.

He has surrounded himself with a trusted circle and his tie-in with FSG and RedBird does point to something longer term.

James has crafted himself as a savvy businessman as well as a remarkable athlete, and given his desire to bring about positive change, especially in the black community, the chance to make a difference, as he will know, comes from being on the inside and having a seat at the table.

There is a dearth of black ownership in sport. Jordan, in taking over as owner of the Hornets 11 years ago, became the first black owner of an NBA franchise, and given the competition began life in 1946 that seems like an awful long time to reach that point.

“I believe if I wanted to, I could own a team or be part of a basketball team,” commented James in 2019.

There aren’t, at least yet anyway, any basketball franchises in the FSG portfolio, although it is something that partner Sam Kennedy has gone on record as saying they would have an interest in, while one of FSG’s minority partners, Arctos, have taken minority stakes in both the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings this year.

The future of FSG’s ownership structure is an unknown, but there are some clues. Some believe that RedBird and its founder Gerry Cardinale will play a key role, while others see former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and current Red Sox president Kennedy as being key players.

And there are those who feel that James, with his global appeal and strong business background that has grown enormously in recent years, could also play a more prominent role.

Will that see him take more of a leading role in the sports teams that already exist in FSG’s portfolio, namely Liverpool, or does their desire to add an NBA franchise chime with the plans that they have for James moving forward?

He has a foot in the door with ownership through his stake in FSG, but that, for now, is limited.

Either way it seems as if James is destined for a bigger role when it comes to sports ownership, and the ties between some of the key players behind the scenes at Liverpool are being continually strengthened.




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