It’s pretty impossible not to know LeBron James, No. 2 on this year’s The Root 100 list of black Influencers. For over a decade now, the NBA’s other 23 has been working overtime, even ending his 13th basketball season with a first-ever NBA championship for his Cleveland Cavaliers and his third overall. Maverick Carter, who checks in at No. 46 on The Root 100, isn’t nearly as well-known, but as his profile touches on, he is James’ MVP in business. That reported billion-dollar deal with Nike? Mav Carter did that.
In the entertainment arena, King James passes the ball to Carter. If Carter’s name is starting to sound vaguely familiar, it may be because he was one of James’ “boys” who started managing him through their own company, LRMR Marketing & Branding (now LRMR Ventures), after Akron, Ohio’s Chosen One shook up the sports world by firing his agent early in his career in 2006. LeBron would be penniless, all the industry experts predicted.
Fast-forward to now and Carter, a onetime aspiring NBA player himself who honed his business acumen working with Nike, is doing more than all right by his friend. In addition to that $1 billion Nike deal, he also got his superstar partner in on Beats by Dre before it was the thing and was, in fact, instrumental in pushing the company toward its huge $3 billion Apple payday.
He’s sprinkled that same magic on SpringHill Entertainment, the multimedia production company he and James founded and own. To date, SpringHill’s biggest successes include the Starz dramedy Survivor’s Remorse, about a star pro-basketball superstar, which just ended its third season; the rookie entrepreneurial series Cleveland Hustles, wrapping up soon on CNBC; and Uninterrupted, their athlete-driven multimedia-content platform, boosted by major partners Warner Bros. Entertainment and Turner Sports, which allows athletes to tell their own stories. Uninterrupted can be accessed on Bleacher Report, Facebook 360, go90 and more. Chris Bosh, King James’ former Miami Heat teammate, recently took to the platform to talk directly about his health and NBA career.
Carter says of Uninterrupted via telephone during a recent European vacation:
The ultimate goal is to create a network that’s built to take phenomenal content creators like Gotham Chopra—who we brought on board to be our creative director and executive producer—to work with some phenomenal athletes like Serena Williams and Draymond Green and Rob Gronkowski and [lacrosse player for the Ohio Machine] Kyle Harrison and LeBron James to tell some great stories, whether those stories be documentaries, scripted shows, animated shows or interview shows, and I think we’ve done it so far, and we have some great things coming.
Carter has been smart about making the most of sports, the duo's core brand, and that strategy has proved to be an incredible springboard. After all, Carter and James’ very first production was the 2008 documentary More Than a Game, featuring a teenage James, his high school teammates and beloved coach Dru Joyce. That same year, Carter helped popularize Beats by having James gift the then-unknown headphones to his Olympic teammates as they headed to Beijing.
“I think the greatest thing sports does is brings people together,” Carter explains. “When you go to a sporting event, it doesn’t matter your race, your ethnicity, your gender, whatever; if we’re rooting for the same team, we are together. So I think the greatest thing that sports can do more than anything is to bring people together and inspire people to do great things.”
Perhaps his partner James is the best example of inspiring “people to do great things.” By coming back to Cleveland to play for his adopted home team, he not only brought the city together in the Quicken Loans Arena but also sparked an economic revitalization. It’s that spirit that also drives Cleveland Hustles. Both James and Carter have shown up on the series, hosted by B. Bonin Bough (who made a name for himself as PepsiCo’s senior global director for digital and social media). In it, Cleveland-area entrepreneurs are coached as they pour their talent and sweat into making the city a place of opportunity again. Even though Carter and James could easily have done this by privately funding the entrepreneurs, they realized that, like James, the process was bigger than just Cleveland.
“We thought by putting it on air that it would also inspire and make the entrepreneurs work even harder and get more recognition,” Carter explains. “We’re in the business of making great, entertaining TV. So we feel if we can make great, entertaining TV and inspire at the same time, that’s a win-win for us. That’s the ultimate.”
Ask Carter when he first realized that he, himself, was an entrepreneur and he counters with, “The better question is, when did I figure out or know what an entrepreneur was, because that was probably around the time I was 22, 23, when I truly realized what it meant. And then, when I looked back, I realized that I’d probably been that since I was a kid. I was always ambitious and working on ideas and trying to push things forward.”
His biggest accomplishment to date? “I think getting Survivor’s Remorse to three seasons. I think getting a TV show for three seasons has been a huge accomplishment. People work years and years to get something on the air and never do it.”
When it's noted that those people don’t have King James as their ace to make it easier, Carter quickly dismisses that as “opinion. Unless they are with me, how can they judge how easy or hard it is?” Still, he doesn’t discount James’ impact. “I have a great partner in LeBron James, who is totally committed and really inspires me.”
He’s also clear that he and the character Reggie, the cousin-manager of superstar ball player Cam Calloway on Survivor’s Remorse, bear little resemblance. At least not today.
“No, he’s in a much different place than me,” Carter shares. “RonReaco [Lee], who plays the character, is a phenomenal, phenomenal, phenomenal actor, but I think the character is just now starting off. Who I am today is a lot different. I think also, if you go back 10 years, then probably there is [some resemblance].”
One thing, however, that never changes is the pride he has for his roots. “I’m from Akron, and I always want to do the place I’m from proud,” he says. “Hopefully I can continue to inspire people that grew up in the same way I did, like I did, and show them that, even though we are from a place that’s counted out a lot, we will continue to show them that a lot of good can come from anywhere, not just from Akron. Good can come from anywhere if you’re committed and have passion.”
Ronda Racha Penrice is a freelance writer living in Atlanta. She is the author of African American History for Dummies.