In 2003, former Reebok chairman and CEO Paul Fireman offered LeBron James $10 million upfront to sign with Reebok and not talk to Nike or Adidas. However, despite being just a high school student at the time, James demonstrated business acumen beyond his years.
In an episode of Uninterrupted’s “Kneading Dough” with Maverick Carter, James and Carter recalled this business decision that James made when he was just 18 years old which turned out to be a brilliant move.
“When [Fireman] slid [the check down the table] and he said, ‘Listen, if you take this right now, you just promise me you won’t go talk to Nike or Adidas. You know, you can take this right now,'” James said.
“And I was lost for words at the beginning. I mean, I flew in from Akron, Ohio, out of Spring Hill, from the projects. I mean, our rent was like $17 a month. And now I’m looking at a $10 million check — and go back to high school and go back to the classroom the next day. I was going to homeroom the next morning. I’m like,’ Holy s—.'”
“I started thinking, like, ‘If this guy… if he’s willing to give me a $10 million check right now, what is it to say if Nike or Adidas isn’t willing to give me $20 or $30 [million] upfront.’ Or to say if maybe the upfront money isn’t the biggest thing. Maybe let’s start thinking about the backend,” James said.
James concluded, “I still can’t believe I left that $10 million.”
In 2015, James signed a lifetime deal with Nike worth north of a billion dollars. Good thing he left that $10 million.