PORTLAND, OR - DECEMBER 28: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat smiles from the bench during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on December 28, 2013 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon.
Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images
That Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel — he of great nickname, great momentum and great ability to make headlines in and out of sports — officially turned professional this week and chose a firm out of Cleveland to handle his marketing opportunities speaks volumes.
Mostly, it speaks to the power of LeBron.
Four-time NBA MVP LeBron James has been calling himself some version of King James for more than a decade now. As for Johnny Football, it’s hard to imagine a better — or more marketable — nickname ever. Taking Manziel’s profile national and possibly even global and getting him paid handsomely for it (without the NCAA being able to ask a single question) is going to fall in the hands of LRMR, the marketing firm James owns and his longtime friend and business manager/partner, Maverick Carter, is CEO.
There are some things even the guys who did The Decision can’t screw up, and Manziel might be one of them.
"At the end of the day, (Manziel) is an unbelievable competitor," James told reporters Thursday night before the Miami Heat played the New York Knicks. "And we love what he brings to the table as far as being a football player and as far as being a young man that’s trying to strive for greatness. So we’re just happy to be a friend of his and be able to help him."
Young athletes have been watching James, who just turned 29, for a very long time. They see his skill and his charisma and his collection of trophies, both the team and individual variety, and they envision themselves following a similar path. Mostly, they see LeBron everywhere — on commercials, on video game covers, in shoe stores, online, selling cell phones and in recent years, just selling himself.
Lots of people are buying. Nike re-upped James in 2010 at what’s been estimated at $20 million per year, and he stays busy endorsing other high-dollar, highly-recognized companies.
What LRMR does besides cash in on this Power of LeBron isn’t totally clear to the public, but it’s clear the guys at LRMR — its name comes from the first initial of James, his agent Rich Paul, Carter, and Randy Mims — know the right people. Who you know trumps what you know in this kind of business, and in choosing Carter and LRMR, Manziel isn’t waiting to see in which city he’ll start his NFL career or trying to land a few bucks to endorse the local grocery store or dry cleaner.
He wants to go big. Really big.
James and Carter were high school basketball teammates when James was a freshman and Carter a senior. Carter went on to play one season at Western Michigan before transferring home to Akron, where he planned to continue his playing career. But that’s when LeBron started becoming not just a player but a phenomenon, and Nike hired Carter to start working with guys who at the time were already in the NBA. Mostly, though, he was hired to recruit James for when the time was right.
James can recruit, too. There’s a reason the Ohio State basketball program keeps a locker for James even though he never attended college, there’s a reason the University of Akron basketball program wears LeBron brand gear and has a picture of James in its players lounge and there’s a reason Ray Allen chose the Heat two summers ago. Last summer, LeBron even showed up at his high school alma mater modeling a brand new football uniform he paid for and helped to design. The admissions office must love him.
That’s what James does out of kindness, though, and what he does otherwise is business. He’s had at least some level of a relationship with Manziel since last summer, and through that Manziel — who already had both money in the bank and plenty of famous friends — was able to meet the LRMR guys and get a taste of what life after the recently completed football season might bring. Just last week, he watched a Heat game in Miami courtside with Carter.
Last month, Manziel said he befriended James while he was being investigated by the NCAA last summer for signing autographs for memorabilia brokers. The quarterback told The Dan Patrick Show that he and James would send text messages to each other every day during that time.
"Everyone was coming after me, and there was so much criticism," Manziel said. "I feel like LeBron deals with that every single day of his life."
Everyone was coming after me, and there was so much criticism. I feel like LeBron deals with that every single day of his life.
-- Johnny Manziel
He practically swims in money and sorts through dozens of business and endorsement opportunities every day, too.
Through a deal done with LRMR and Fenway Sports Group, a group headlined by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry in 2011, James and Carter each acquired a small interest in Liverpool FC of the Barclay’s Premier League, then ranked as the sixth most valuable football team in the world by Forbes.
For a couple of kids from Akron, that’s playing in the really big leagues. For someone like Manziel, that had to serve as a pretty good recruiting pitch.
With LeBron, you can never really rule anything out.
The press release announcing the Fenway Sports Group-LRMR deal said "LRMR creates successful partnerships between iconic athletes, performers and brands, leveraging relationships and consumer insight to implement innovative and impactful marketing initiatives."
Yeah. All that and gets really good Miami Heat tickets, too. James is on top of every game he plays, and months before Manziel ever throws an NFL pass he’ll be putting even more money in the bank. Carter and LRMR will certainly earn their percentage of Manziel’s cut, and Johnny will get a chance to flash his smile and savvy — like LeBron, he’s a natural — on more televisions than ever tuned into his games vs. Alabama.
John Paul Manziel has a long way to go before he’s an icon, but before he signs an NFL contract he’s almost certainly going to sign up for a bunch of high-profile deals. LeBron’s streak continues, too.
The King is on a pretty good run. Why wouldn’t someone in Johnny Football’s cleats want to jump on board?