LeBron James was almost three years old when his grandmother, Freda James Howard, passed away. It left LeBron with just his mother, Gloria, who had him as a 16-year-old. It started a period of dangerous uncertainty in his life.
Lacking even a high school degree, Gloria scraped through various low-paying jobs but couldn’t keep up Freda’s old house near downtown Akron. When the heat got shut off, a neighbor took them in. They began bouncing around the city, sleeping on friend’s couches, in spare bedrooms or an occasional cheap sublet for a month or two.
During a three-month span when LeBron was eight, 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. For years.
“I was on the edge of falling 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 football and basketball talents. Within a couple of years, he and his mother would move into Apartment 602 of the Spring Hill Apartments, a westside high rise built through federal funds.
Spring Hill was a dream come true in its own right. It was small, but it was theirs. The James’ would stay from 1996-2003, when he entered the NBA. It offered a measure of stability and, at last, his own bedroom, which he papered with posters of Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders.
Still, it would not be a destination. It was there, LeBron still recalls to this day, that he would sit and think of what he would make of his life.
“All my dreams came out of that bedroom,” he said years later.
Moving out. Moving up. Games he'd win. Places he’d visit. Businesses he’d open. Cars he'd drive. Homes he'd own. How the chaos of his childhood would be replaced with the kind of settled family life he saw in television sitcoms.
Nothing, it seemed, was too big or bold or grand. Although, maybe there was something beyond even LeBron’s conceptualization.
Not starring on an NBA team, of course. That was always the core plan.
Owning an NBA team though?
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 playing in the city.
There, he made a declaration.
“It’s wonderful,” James told reporters. “It’s the best fanbase in the world and I would love to bring a team here at some point. That would be amazing. I know [NBA Commissioner] Adam [Silver] is in Abu Dhabi right now, I believe … but he probably sees every single interview and transcript that comes through from NBA players
“So I want a team here, Adam. Thank you.”
James broke into a big smile.
LeBron knows the NBA doesn’t just hand out expansion franchises and no one gets to just claim a city as their own domain, even if you are on a first name basis with the Commish.
He also knows, as rich as he is — estimated net worth $1.0 billion — even he can’t afford a team on his own. Professional sports ownership requires swimming in the deepest of financial waters, after all.
No matter. There are partners and procedures and opportunities that will come, either in Vegas or elsewhere.
The most amazing part of James’ aspirational statement about owning a team is that while it made headlines — and perhaps rankled those who aren’t fans — no reasonable person dismissed the concept.
LeBron as a team owner? Yes, of course. Makes sense. It'll happen one day, it seems.
Much of that is because James has proven to be so much more than the sheer athletic ability that essentially pulled his family out of abject poverty before he was even a teenager. He became the No. 1 pick in the draft, a four-time champion and a four-time MVP. He became the star that's now lining kids' rooms.
He also became a businessman — endorsements (Nike, Verizon), investments (Blaze Pizza, Lobos 1707 tequila) and partnerships, including the Fenway Sports Group, which made him a part-owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC. He even opened a school back in Akron.
He also founded a sprawling entertainment and production company (music and movies, mainly) that alone was valued at more than $700 million last year. Its name? SpringHill Entertainment, after that old apartment complex.
He now often talks about continuing to dream even when all the obvious dreams have been fulfilled. It’s more than business, too. He’s married to his high school girlfriend and is the very active father of three, living up to a vow that he would be the dad to his kids that no one ever was for him.
James lends his time, money and voice to political activism and political campaigns, an action no matter which side of the spectrum someone fights for, engenders resentment from the other side. That’s the cost of such business.
Yet even those who may vehemently disagree with his opinions or politics can’t take away the mesmerizing rise of his life, this incredible American life.
Less than three decades ago, LeBron James had nowhere to sleep. Wednesday he was just another billionaire talking about owning an NBA team.
And no one blinked. Most just nodded.