Ice Cube was among the first to tweet on July 1, proclaiming, “There is a God!”
Then Chrissy Teigen jotted out a quick, tongue-in-cheek guide to Los Angeles: “Friday is sunset rosé, laser facials on Monday. the rest of the week is running into people you don’t like at soho house.” Busy Philipps mused the news was “the best birthday present my husband could have possibly gotten.” And, finally, Kobe Bryant officially welcomed basketball great LeBron James to his city—and his team.
As dusk fell, fans gathered outside L.A.’s Staples Center for a makeshift celebration, some using baby powder to imitate James’ former on court chalk toss. Others made their way up the winding road to one of his two Brentwood mansions just to yell out his name in glee.
The King won’t touch down in the City of Angels for several days, but the coronation has already begun. And James fully intends to live up to these lofty expectations. As the L.A. Lakers’ newest recruit, the 33-year-old three-time champ is chasing titles and revenge, looking to vanquish the Golden State Warriors dream team who topped his Cleveland Cavaliers in three of the last four finals. He’s also seeking the unequivocal designation of greatest of all time, looking to unseat Michael Jordan and his impressive six NBA trophies.
But his quest extends beyond basketball. Though he has millions on hand—his latest four-year deal alone was worth $154 million—the father of three is already eyeing his off-the-court future and his dream of building an empire with his L.A.-based production company SpringHill Entertainment. “It’s all more about life after basketball than anything else,” an unnamed Eastern Conference GM told Bleacher Report‘s Ric Bucher, predicting James’ pull to California. And there’s certainly no better place than Los Angeles to pursue a Hollywood ending.
Eagle-eyed fans would note James began making moves west as early as last July. That’s when the four-time NBA MVP claimed a courtside seat at Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center to watch Lonzo Ball and other Lakers’ rookies compete in a summer league game. That September he and wife of five years, Savannah Brinson, parents to LeBron, Jr., 13, Bryce, 11, and Zhuri, 3, toured a private Sherman Oaks, Calif. high school and soon they were shelling out $23 million for a second mansion in L.A.’s upscale Brentwood neighborhood, this one complete with an indoor/outdoor gym, theater room and wine cellar, and some five miles down the road from pals Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
By the time his agent, Rich Paul, settled into a seat beside Lakers’ co-owner and president Jeanie Buss at the Staples Center last October, Twitter exploded with speculation that James’ free agency would end with him in purple and gold.
But for all the predictions and billboards courting James to La La Land, to hear Sports Illustrated‘s Lee Jenkins tell it, the decision was made mere minutes before last night’s press release went wide.
As James vowed, he didn’t really began contemplating his choices until after the Warriors completed their sweep of his team on June 8. As he sat at home, recovering from a root canal, Jenkins reports, he held three meetings with his top advisors to discuss his options and debate the merits of staying in Cleveland versus heading to L.A., Philadelphia or Houston. The goal: To find a team that could help him best the Warriors and allow him to live in a city his family would love.
By the time his private jet landed at L.A.’s Van Nuys airport this past Saturday, he seemed to have honed in on the Lakers. He chatted with former star Bryant over the phone and invited team legend and newly named president of basketball operations Magic Johnson over to his Brentwood spread for a late night meeting.
He remained mum at brunch with Brinson the next morning, even as gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom and legendary journalist Maria Shriver dropped by his table at Brentwood’s A Votre Sante to plead their case. But as he and his wife climbed back aboard their jet to head off on a European vacation that afternoon, he phoned Paul and instructed him to pull the trigger. It was time to call the Lakers.
As he had in the past, when he declared he was taking his talents to South Beach in 2010 and returning home in 2014, James took the wishes of his brood into account. But this time his boys, still in elementary school when he made his last move, played more of a role.
“The one thing that I’ve always done is consider my family, understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age,” James announced after the Cavaliers’ June 8 loss. “They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this, four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a preteen, and a little girl that wasn’t around as well. So sitting down and considering everything…But my family is a huge part of whatever I decide to do in my career, and they will continue to be that.”
LeBron, Jr., known as Bronny, is said to have pro basketball ambitions of his own and rumors abound that James plans to enroll him at the Sierra Canyon School, where he can compete for a high school championship—and the attention of college coaches—alongside other NBA offspring: Kenyon Martin‘s son KJ Martin and Scottie Pippen‘s boy Scottie Pippen, Jr.
The sunny climes of California also hold much allure for James’ high school sweetheart, business owner and interior designer Brinson, who according to one Bleacher Report story, has voiced her desire to live in L.A. full-time.
And, of course, there’s plenty of promise for James himself.
First, there’s the chance for yet another trophy. While he may never catch Jordan’s six titles, winning championships with three different teams puts him in rarified air, Bucher notes, citing the fact that the only other future Hall of Famers that can claim they helped lead two rosters win a trophy are Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. And, as an insider told Bucher, “Three different teams will make him more unique.”
Success with the Lakers could also him fulfill another dream: a full or partial ownership of a team, á la former Lakers standout Johnson.
And should that not work out, he has his other day job.
The part-time actor—he’s played a version of himself in a series of projects including 2015’s Trainwreck—created SpringHill Entertainment with hometown pal and business manager Maverick Carter, named for the housing project he and his mother moved into when he was in sixth grade.
They’ve produced Disney XD sports documentary Becoming, Starz sitcom Survivor’s Remorse, the animated web series The LeBrons and NBC game show The Wall and have their eyes set on a Space Jam remake. First, though, they’ll tackle a reinvention of the 1990 comedy House Party.
“It’s fun, it’s an honor when I got the opportunity to produce it, reboot the whole movie, man, I had so much fun as a kid watching that movie,” James has said of the project, adding he may even make a cameo.
Because the idea of LeBron James: comedic actor is not so farfetched. Trainwreck pulled in more than $30 million thanks, in part, to James’ appeal. “He gets laughter as big as anyone,” director Judd Apatow told The Hollywood Reporter of their early test screenings. “LeBron is a very strong actor, and he has a fantastic sense of humor. We do a lot of improvisation, and he was really good at it. As a result, it’s a really fun, wild, slightly strange performance that really scores.”
But first he’s focused on actually, you know, scoring. Because if the NBA’s top endorsement earner has learned anything from chasing Jordan it’s that rings are crucial. “Winning is the first thing that matters. And that allowed everything else to just fall into place, from commercials to movies to appearing on TV shows to obviously his shoes,” James told The Hollywood Reporter. “He had a gift, he knew he had a gift and he took advantage of it. We all look up to that.”
His ambitions are lofty But no matter how high James rises, he won’t be forgetting his roots. His most prized professional accomplishment, he’s said, is the July 30 opening of his I Promise School, a partnership between the LeBron James Family Foundation and Akron Public Schools.
And he’ll certainly be back to check on its progress. In contrast to his splashy proclamations of the past—who can forget The Decision?—the athlete instead relied on his Instagram to post a simple message to Cavaliers’ fans, writing over a photo of the team’s 2016 victory parade, “Thank you Northeast Ohio for an incredible 4 seasons. This will always be home.”
If you don’t mind excusing him, though, he has a new homecoming to attend.