LeBron James was almost three years old when his grandmother, Freda James Howard, passed away. He left LeBron alone with his mother, Gloria, who had him when he was 16 years old. He began a period of dangerous uncertainty in his life.
Gloria, who didn’t even have a high school degree, managed various low-paying jobs, but was unable to keep Freda’s old house near downtown Akron. When the heat went out, a neighbor took them in. They began hanging around the city, sleeping on friends’ couches, in spare rooms, or in an occasional cheap sublease for a month or two.
During a three-month span when LeBron was eight years old, they moved five times. When he was in fourth grade, he missed 83 days of school because he and his mother were staying on the wrong side of town.
They were effectively homeless. During years.
“I was about to fall into an abyss from which I could never escape,” LeBron later wrote in his autobiography, ‘Shooting Stars.’
LeBron would eventually be taken in by a series of youth coaches who saw his prodigious talents in football and basketball. In a couple of years, he and his mother would move into 602 of the Spring Hill Apartments, a high-rise on the west side built with federal funds.
Spring Hill was a dream come true in its own right. It was small, but it was theirs. Those of James would stay from 1996 to 2003, when he entered the NBA. He offered her some stability and, finally, his own bedroom, which he wallpapered with posters of Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders.
Still, it would not be a destiny. It was there, LeBron still remembers to this day, that he would sit and think about what he would do with his life.
“All my dreams came out of that bedroom,” he said years later.
Move. Going up. Games I would win. places I visited. businesses to open. Cars that she drove. Houses that he would own. How the chaos of his childhood would be replaced by the kind of stable family life he saw on sitcoms.
Nothing, it seemed, was too big or bold or grandiose. Although, maybe there was something beyond even LeBron’s conceptualization.
Not starring in an NBA team, of course. That was always the central plan.
However, having an NBA team?
On Wednesday, after a Los Angeles Lakers exhibition game in Las Vegas, LeBron James, now a 37-year-old billionaire, was asked what it was like to play in the city.
There he made a statement.
“It’s wonderful,” James told reporters. “It’s the best fan base in the world and I would love to bring a team here at some point. That would be surprising. I know [NBA Commissioner] Adam [Silver] he’s in Abu Dhabi right now, I think… but he probably watches every interview and transcript he gets from NBA players.
“So I want a team here, Adam. Thank you.”
James broke into a big smile.
LeBron knows that the NBA doesn’t just hand out expansion franchises and that no one can just claim a city as their own domain, even if it’s a first name with the Commish.
He also knows that as rich as he is (with an estimated net worth of $1.0 billion), even he can’t afford a team on his own. Professional sports ownership requires swimming in the deeper financial waters, after all.
No matter. There are partners and procedures and opportunities to come, whether it’s in Vegas or somewhere else.
The most surprising part of James’ aspirations statement about owning a team is that while it made headlines, and perhaps rankled non-fans, no reasonable person dismissed the concept.
LeBron as a team owner? Yes, of course. Makes sense. It will happen one day, it seems.
Much of that is because James has proven to be so much more than sheer athletic ability that essentially lifted his family out of abject poverty before he was even a teenager. He became the first pick in the draft, a four-time champion and a four-time MVP. He became the star that now covers children’s rooms.
He also became a businessman: sponsorships (Nike, Verizon), investments (Blaze Pizza, Lobos 1707 tequila) and partnerships, including the Fenway Sports Group, which made him co-owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC. He even opened a school in Akron.
He also founded a sprawling entertainment and production company (music and movies, mostly) that alone was valued at more than $700 million last year. His name from him? SpringHill Entertainment, after that old apartment complex.
Now he often talks about continuing to dream even when all the obvious dreams have been fulfilled. It is also more than a business. He is married to his girlfriend from high school and is the very active father of three children, fulfilling his promise to be the father to his children that no one ever was to him.
James lends his time, money, and voice to political activism and political campaigning, an action no matter which side of the spectrum someone fights for, it breeds resentment on the other side. That is the cost of such a business.
However, even those who vehemently disagree with his views or politics cannot take away from him the fascinating rise of his life, this incredible American life.
Less than three decades ago, LeBron James had nowhere to sleep. On Wednesday he was just another billionaire talking about owning an NBA team.
And no one blinked. Most just nodded.