Recode Decode: Maverick Carter, LeBron James's business manager

Athletes become kings when they control their own message

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Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Services for startups
When LeBron James announced in 2010 that he would leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, he did it through a live TV special on ESPN called "The Decision." Media reactions were swift and often critical, his manager, Maverick Carter, said, but then something funny happened. "The largest growth in LeBron’s brand at Nike was that year, 'The Decision,'" Carter said in an interview with Recode's Kurt Wagner on the latest episode of Recode Decode. Put another way: Whatever, haters! "The Decision" and the move helped James sell lots and lots of merch. That was one of the best indicators to Carter that his approach to media coverage — control the message — was working. After two NBA Playoff championships in Miami and a return to Cleveland, this time announced via a carefully planned letter in Sports Illustrated, James is a bigger star than ever. He and Carter co-founded Uninterrupted, a platform for first-person athlete stories hosted on Bleacher Report; he made a well-received crossover into film with a prominent role in Judd Apatow's "Trainwreck"; and whispers abound that he will succeed Michael Jordan in the Looney Tunes sports movie "Space Jam 2." "Maybe we’re going to do it. There’s a lot of rumors. Nothing is set yet," Carter said of "Space Jam." Today, Carter said he sees traditional media as "complementary" to his and James's work, and a good source of broad distribution, but he wants more and more athletes to be telling their own stories. "The media has to cover a lot of stories and a lot of athletes," he said. "If Draymond Green wants to tell a deeper, more insightful story, we [Uninterrupted] are the place for that. But he’s still going to talk to the Golden State press every day."