SBJ/October 24 - 30, 2005/SBJ In Depth

Can Maverick Carter prove critics wrong?

When LeBron James decided to fire his agent and hire three close friends to manage his business deals, some people scoffed, especially knowing that the man James hired to lead the effort was a mere 23 years old.

“James’ switcheroo a youthful mistake,” the Chicago Sun-Times said.

Some have questioned how well Carter, at age 24, can lead LeBron James’ new management team.
“Team LeBron might have taken a turn for the worse,” said the Columbus Dispatch.

Jim Corbett, a former NFL player who now runs a money management firm, told the Akron Beacon Journal, “I will promise you really ugly things will happen. This is a big mistake, a bad decision that is going to cost LeBron.”

At the center of the debate is Maverick Carter, a childhood friend of James who took over the management of his career in May after James fired veteran NBA player agent Aaron Goodwin.

In his first interview about his role in James’ management, Carter, now 24, offered few details about the inner workings of the new organization. But several people in the industry say they have confidence in Carter’s ability, that he’s asking the right questions and building a team that makes up for his lack of experience.

‘4 Horsemen’

James’ endorsement deals are the envy of pro sports. They include relationships with Upper Deck trading cards, Bubblicious chewing gum, Coca-Cola brands Sprite and Powerade and shoe and apparel giant Nike, which agreed to pay him $90 million over seven years about a month before James became the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft.

All of those endorsements were negotiated by Goodwin, who signed James just before he went pro. Goodwin was fired in early May.

Carter leads a team that also includes James’ friends Randy Mims and Richard Paul.
Since then, if you ask anyone in James’ outer circle about what is going on with the Cavaliers forward, they refer all questions to Carter. Time and again you hear, “You have to talk to Maverick.”

If you ask Carter about his role as the leader of the team, however, he bristles. “I want people to know this management group,” he said. “We work together as a team. Everything we do is a team effort and we run it as a business.”

The team includes James, Carter and James’ other two closest friends, Randy Mims and Richard Paul. The four have called themselves “The Four Horsemen,” and have reserved the names “4 Horsemen Development Co.” and “4 Horsemen Management Co.” with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

Mims handles James’ complicated logistics and travel schedules. Carter, who is based in Cleveland, handles James’ marketing, public relations and overall brand. And Paul works closely with Carter on image issues, Carter said.

Despite rumors and some press reports, Carter said he is not James’ first cousin, though he acknowledged that they are “somehow related.” Growing up in the same neighborhood in north Akron, Ohio, “I have known him all my life,” Carter said of James. “We are like brothers.”

Carter will not talk about why Goodwin was fired or even why he doesn’t want to talk about it. But he makes it clear the real leader of the new management group is James, with whom he talks four or five times a day.

“LeBron decided … the way he wanted to do it is to set up himself as if he was a brand or business,” Carter said. “We have helped him put this together. It’s not that I have done this.”

Carter can be a bit wary when discussing his role. His reticence is not surprising, considering how media outlets met the news of his hiring.

But plenty of people in the industry say that although James and Carter are young, they have made smart moves right off the bat.

For starters, James recently hired his first financial adviser, Kurt Schoeppler, senior vice president of McCormack Advisors International. Carter would not comment on that hiring, saying that James’ finances are a private matter. Schoeppler also would not comment.

Goodwin did not return a phone call for this story, but he told SportsBusiness Journal in 2004, almost a year after James signed the Nike deal, that James had yet to choose a financial adviser, a revelation that raised a lot of eyebrows in the sports financial adviser community.

Also part of the new team is seasoned public relations executive Keith Estabrook, who formerly held corporate communications positions at Sony Music Entertainment and Hachette Filipacchi Magazines and was involved in the re-launch of Elle magazine and the launch of George magazine.

Additionally, Fred Nance, a respected lawyer with the Cleveland firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP, has taken a bigger role in the new management group. Under Goodwin’s leadership, Nance was relegated to local litigation work for James, but now he is involved in reviewing and negotiating contracts, as well as general business planning. It was Nance who successfully defended against eligibility questions regarding James’ purchase of a Hummer while James was in high school.

Carter could have applied to become a National Basketball Players Association-certified agent and represented James in his NBA player contract negotiations. But he chose, instead, to hire Leon Rose, a Philadelphia lawyer who counts Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson among his clients.

“First and foremost, I think LeBron himself has become heavily involved in his affairs and decision making,” Rose said. “What has been put in place is a team that has within it checks and balances, which I believe is beneficial to a client.

“Rather than one person handling all of the different aspects of his business affairs, you have different people and different entities involved.”

Right-hand man

Nance said of the criticism that James and Carter endured when Goodwin was fired, “I say the proof will be in the pudding. Give it the better part of the year and compare where he will be at that point, compared to where he was.”

LeBron’s next deal

LeBron James has already amassed a reported $135 million in endorsement deals, so what’s next?

Expect deals with a fast-food company and an automaker, said Maverick Carter, the head of his new management team. “Those are two big silos or categories that he doesn’t have [filled].”
Carter would not name the companies James is talking to, or give any indication when agreements may be completed. But he said, “We are always reviewing proposals. … The number changes all the time. There could be three this week, none next week, 10 the week after that.”
Rose, Carter and Nance said that the team, meaning “The Four Horsemen,” and the outside consultants chat regularly.

“LeBron selected this team,” Nance said. “LeBron is the ultimate decision-maker. We give him advice. We make sure he is fully informed before he makes a decision, but it is his decision.

“I would say that Maverick is functioning as LeBron’s right hand. While he is not authorized to make deals without LeBron’s approval, he does engage in discussions with potential partners and explores opportunities and brings them back to the team.”

Carter couldn’t say how the new management team around James functions differently than the old one under Goodwin. “I wasn’t involved enough in his old management to know the difference,” he said.

One of the biggest decisions James and his new team will have to make in the next two years, and that may determine how big the LeBron brand becomes, isn’t any single endorsement deal. It is whether James will stay in Cleveland or move to New York or Los Angeles when he can become an unrestricted free agent in two years.

“I’ll tell you this,” Carter said, “LeBron at this time is very, very happy with Cleveland. Whether he can say that tomorrow or the next day, I don’t know.”

Sonny Vaccaro, who signed Michael Jordan to his historic Nike shoe deal and is now a consultant to Reebok, predicted that James will move to New York or Los Angeles if Cleveland doesn’t win a championship before his contract expires.

“He has to do it because of who he is,” Vaccaro said. And, he added, when and if James becomes a free agent, “It is going to be a frenzy.”

Vaccaro is among those who believe Carter can handle the pressure of leading James’ team. Like some others interviewed for this article, Vaccaro said that one of Carter’s best qualities is that he is constantly asking for advice from people with more experience, and that he listens to their answers.

“Maverick is not afraid to call other people,” Vaccaro said. “He is without ego, where others [in the sports industry] are constrained by ego and vanity.”

Basketball agent Bill Duffy, whose NBA client list includes Yao Ming, Carmelo Anthony and Steve Nash, said, “Maverick is a good guy. I think he is humble. When I have ever met him he is eager to get advice and input from people who are established. I am sure he is studying the icons, the Tiger Woodses and people like that.”

Tom Shine, Reebok’s senior vice president of sports and entertainment worldwide, said he also is impressed with Carter. “He asks if he doesn’t know,” said Shine. “The thing about him is he is constantly learning and adding [to his knowledge.] He isn’t enamored with the position he is in. He is enamored with the opportunity.”

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