With LeBron James finally confirmed to join the Los Angeles Lakers, it would be easy to accuse him of having “gone Hollywood.”
But more than perhaps any other working athlete in recent memory, James made that move years ago. A true multi-platform superstar, whose only NBA legacy competition is Michael Jordan, James’ reach extends well beyond the basketball court and sports endorsements and not just to the traditional roles of “Saturday Night Live” host and documentary subject.
Three years ago, he surprised everyone by nailing his BFF role in “Trainwreck,” but most of his entertainment industry deals are through SpringHill Entertainment, the five-year old production company he co-founded. Two years ago, SpringHill signed a deal with Warner Bros., (where LeBron reportedly got his own bungalow and parking space in 2016).
Already in progress is a reboot of the 1999 Kid ‘n Play comedy “House Party,” set to be co-written by “Atlanta” writers Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori for New Line, and an update of the half-animated “Space Jam” (which will likely only further those comparisons between James and Jordan since Jordan starred in the original).
SpringHill’s presence has already been felt on TV screens with the Mike O’Malley-created comedy “Survivor’s Remorse,” which was canceled last year after four seasons on Starz. That network will also host “Warriors of Liberty City,” a docuseries about a youth football program funded by ex-2 Live Crew leader Luther Campbell. James also executive produced the 2016 CNBC reality series “Cleveland Hustles,” which focused on entrepreneurs in the city where the Ohio native spent most of his career.
On HBO, SpringHill premieres the documentary “Student Athlete” in October, and has a doc about Muhammad Ali still to come, and at Netflix, James’ company is working with rap star Drake to adapt the U.K. crime series “Top Boy” for 2019.
James also acts as executive producer on the NBC game show “The Wall,” a series that was renewed for a third season despite allegations of misconduct by its host, Chris Hardwick, who also executive produces. Later this year will see James’ name on a three-part documentary for Showtime looking at the cultural impact of the modern NBA that will be directed by Gotham Chopra.
Chopra also worked on another Showtime documentary, “Kobe Bryant’s Muse,” which offered a look at another former basketball star who has been making an impact off the court with his entertainment projects. The animated short he narrated, “Dear Basketball,” won an Oscar earlier this year for the former Lakers star, who also has a production company, Kobe Inc.
The reach of NBA stars into Hollywood stands in contrast with the other “Big Three” professional sports in the U.S. Both Major League Baseball and the NFL have plenty of stars of their own, but its basketball’s elite that makes the big plays in Hollywood.
While the storied history of the Lakers’ franchise no doubt factored into James’ thinking when considering where he will spend the next phase of his career — as did a salary of, on average, roughly $39 million a year — the idea of being closer to the city’s broader opportunities surely played a role as well.
And the weather is pretty nice too.
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