There’s an easy joke about LeBron James driving another stake in Boston’s sports heart by owning the Red Sox, since, you know, he already has owned the Celtics for most of his NBA career.
There’s more than enough LeBron fodder to rile up the locals, who have to stomach someone who also is an avowed and lifelong Yankees fan moving into their hallowed Fenway Park.
But when the jokes subside and the grin-and-bear-it phase has passed, the view on what James is doing is nothing but impressive.
Here is the current king of the NBA, among the very small handful of those worthy of “greatest of all time” status, already prepping for a future that could be just as revelatory. He’s still in his prime despite being 36 years old with 17 seasons of wear and tear on his body, and is the defending NBA Finals MVP after leading his newest team, the Lakers, to a championship.
And yet he is not content to rest on the laurels of a superior playing career. He has always kept his eyes on the horizon, constantly preparing for a future beyond the box score, readying himself to clear a retirement hurdle that has tripped up many great players before him. In joining Fenway Sports Group (which is owned by Boston Globe owner John Henry) as a partner, James took another giant step on that journey.
One listen to his postgame comments Tuesday night reveals just how much this investment means to him:
“As far as the Red Sox, obviously a historical franchise, we know the history, the World Series championships they’ve brought back home to Boston and the players that’s come through there and the legacy they hold in that area.”
James knows a thing or three about legacies.
His list of accomplishments is as easy to make as it is to take for granted.
He has played for three franchises — the Cavaliers, Heat, and Lakers — and won championships with each. He is the only player in NBA history to win Finals MVP with three teams. He has won four titles overall and has competed in 10 NBA Finals, including an astounding eight straight with the Heat and Cavaliers from 2011-18. He has won two Olympic gold medals. He leads the NBA in career playoff points, is third in career points overall, and eighth in assists. He has been named to the All-NBA first team a record 13 times, has been on the All-Defensive team five times, and is a 17-time All-Star.
His skills were on their usual glorious display Tuesday night, when he recorded a triple-double for the second straight game, doing so on back-to-back nights belying, as usual, his 36 years.
But the postgame conversation was as much about his off-the-court move as it was about what he’d done on it, including a block on a Jake Layman dunk attempt that was every reminder of James’s superior athleticism. A question about joining FSG and earning that ownership stake in the Red Sox (to go with the one he already had in Liverpool FC) had James reflecting on both the journey that got him here and the one he plans to continue.
“I think for me and my partner Maverick [Carter], to be the first two Black men to be a part of that ownership group in the history of that franchise, I think is pretty damn cool,” he said. “It gives me and people that look like me hope and inspiration that they can be in a position like that as well, that it can be done. It gives my kids at my I Promise School more and more inspiration as well.
“But it’s a pretty amazing thing for me to continue to build my portfolio off the floor, also in a beautiful game like baseball.”
Not surprisingly, James isn’t content stopping here. With business interests that range from the life-changing (building and funding a public school in his hometown of Akron) to the mundane (he owns a reported 19 Blaze Pizza franchises) and include too many endorsement deals to count, James has proven his acumen outside of basketball. The Blaze example alone is enough, as a reported $1 million investment turned a relatively local joint into a national favorite that has given James a $35 million return.
His horizon includes NBA ownership.
“I’ve always said that my goal is to own a team,” he said. “I’ve got so much to give to the game, I know what it takes to win at this level. I know talent. I also know how to run a business as well. So that is my goal. My goal is to own an NBA franchise, and it will be sooner than later.”
He is reflective of a growing trend of players becoming owners of professional sports franchises, something that used to be reserved for the rarest of rare people such as Michael Jordan (Charlotte Hornets) or Magic Johnson (Lakers). Recent years have seen Derek Jeter get a stake of the Miami Marlins, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka invest in NWSL teams, and former WNBA star Renee Montgomery join the group that recently purchased her former team, the Atlanta Dream, to name a few.
But James seems poised to go even bigger, to deliver on the promise that athletes can break through the power structure that has always tilted toward franchise owners. His global presence is on par with the likes of soccer internationals Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Even when that complicates his image — as it did when he balked at rebuking China for its human rights abuses because he and the NBA have lucrative business interests there — it makes him a business force beyond what we’re accustomed to.
Combine that with James’s role as a passionate advocate for equality and justice for the Black community, and his future seems limitless, even if a bit strange for the Boston faithful.