3 Negotiation Lessons We Can Learn from LeBron James and Maverick Carter

In 2005, LeBron James at age 20, fired his well known and experienced agent, raising many eyebrows around the sports world. Furthermore, he hired his childhood friend, Maverick Carter age 24, to manage him and his various business ventures. At that point, Bron was the fourth highest-paid athlete endorser in the entire world and now Mav inherited the task of managing and growing the James brand. Many NBA insiders criticized LeBron for this decision of letting an inexperienced friend run the show and predicted that it would not end well.

They were wrong.

Let’s take a look at 3 lessons we can learn from Mav and Bron as we look to build our brands and careers in the future.

IKE EDEANI FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

1. Keep the main thing, the main thing.

LeBron’s success on the court is key for his success off the court.

Yes, it seems obvious, but let’s think about it a bit.

This man spends about $1.5 million dollars a year to take care of his body including physical trainers, chefs, massage therapists, and access to state of the art sports science. But this isn’t just LeBron spending. He is investing.

A body and mind in tip top shape remain crucial to performing at such a high level for so long. Prioritizing health is just one aspect of many where LeBron carefully invests time and energy to ensure success. He also invests in building camaraderie with teammates, building relationships with coaches, studying hours of game film, etc. All of this comes in play when considering how LeBron has been so successful in his career.

What does all of this have to do with negotiation?

The lesson here is you can leverage your natural assets and gifts to do something greater. What strength or talent do you have that most people may not have? Don’t take that advantage for granted. Build on that asset and see how far it will take you.

LeBron approaches a negotiating table with the comfort of knowing he has worked hard to reach his heights and will continue to work to maintain that level of excellence. That hard work, dedication, and results then become the vehicle for Maverick to go out and approach deals in a variety of fields far from the world of sports. LeBron and Maverick always know they are bringing value to the table because they handle the business they’re supposed to beforehand. They also know that if at different points of his career, LeBron had not been on top of his game, the opportunities at the negotiating table would not have been as fruitful. So they always made sure to keep the main thing, the main thing.

2. Don’t let your ego block your blessings.

Even at a young age, with no experience managing an international superstar, Maverick Carter understood the importance of being curious and asking questions. Sonny Vaccaro, the storied sports marketing executive, described Mav as being “without ego, where others [in the sports industry] are constrained by ego and vanity.” In the world of sports and entertainment, there is a lot of ego and bravado. When your client is one of the most well known human beings on the face of the Earth who is constantly in high demand, ego can definitely be a real thing.

Maverick understood that he did not know everything but he had the tools necessary to get the information he needed to make the right decisions. He studied the careers of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Jay Z, and others to think through the right moves for his client LeBron. Mav was not afraid of calling different experts and learning from the greats in order to make himself better.

Think about it. There are so many negotiations that we experience over the course of our lives. The fact is there is no way that we will be the expert on all the fields that we end up negotiating. Still, getting information is possible and we have more access than ever before. In the profound words of Deontay Wilder, “don’t everybody believe in Google?” Perhaps Mav could have walked into rooms saying “Listen, you know my client is one of the greatest athletes to ever walk on this planet and you want us on your side.”

Period.

However, by taking the step back to ask questions and be comfortable with the fact that he does not know everything, he opened doors to create deals where there were no deals and made good deals even better. He set the foundation for relationships to flourish and good things to happen.

3. Collaboration is KEY.

At different points in his career, companies and brands have approached LeBron with an idea or proposal in which he offer him a handsome sum of money for some endorsement. LeBron and Maverick have excelled at taking their time to assess options and see where the opportunities for long-term growth lie. Their approach is meticulous and detailed but one principle persists: look for germane opportunities to partner with a company and acquire equity for the long play.

In other words, equity > cash.

The mindset of flipping endorsement deals into lucrative partnerships primed Bron and Mav to look for business opportunities that may not present themselves at first glance. One of their greatest business moves comes via the Fenway Sports Group, which owns Liverpool Football Club, the Boston Red Sox and a sports management group that was looking to represent LeBron back in 2011. (To be fair, I’d probably look to represent LeBron too because why not?!) LeBron James had become one of the most recognizable athletes in the world and could help attract more athletes to FSG while they grow their global brand. If you’re good enough for Bron, chances are you are good enough for just about everyone else.

With all of this in mind, LeBron and Maverick understood the value they would bring to FSG but also had aspirations of their own and worked out a deal. FSG became the exclusive marketing agency for LeBron, representing him all around the world and LeBron acquired a 2% ownership stake in Liverpool, one of the world’s most famous soccer teams. Throughout his time as a part owner of Liverpool, LeBron’s basketball season has overlapped with the English Premiership League’s season. Still, Bron and Mav were on top of things per usual. Maverick remains in consistent communication with Liverpool leadership looking for new and different ways to collaborate and continually create value.

Now, a decade later, LeBron and Maverick have become partners at FSG making them part owners of the Boston Red Sox and poised to do so much more. The beauty of the situation is that this is something that LeBron and Maverick have worked toward for years through how they have managed their business relationships.

Maverick knew that what he and Lebron were trying to build would not be constructed over night. They were committed to the long game and this impacted how they approached their deals. Instead of simply accepting cash and immediate gratification for a deal, Maverick and Lebron decided they should look to be partners and acquire equity when possible. Every time Bron and Mav would ask for equity, they also were intentional in showing the various ways in which they could add value to the other side too. When both sides can see the value the other brings, it sets the table up for fruitful collaboration and a better deal for everyone.

Okay so we can’t all be LeBron James and Maverick Carter, and that’s okay! Still, we can all work on what we are good at and use it as a vehicle to approach the negotiating table with confidence. Staying focused on the main thing, reining in ego, and thinking about building mutually beneficial partnerships are wonderful ways to approach your business, career, and future negotiations.

Harvard Law Student. Culture and Tech Enthusiast. Political Junkie. Polyglot. Nigerian American. Texan.