If you're a basketball fan who followed the LeBron James free agent chase, the name Maverick Carter should be a familiar one. Alternately labeled as James's "business partner" and "manager," Carter has emerged as one of the most trusted voices in the inner circle of basketball's most dynamic young star.
Which is not to say that all is well in LeBron's world. James and Carter have been panned for arranging the one-hour special on ESPN in which James announced that he was spurning his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. Critics have also suggested that James's legacy and brand could suffer from overexposure as well as sharing the spotlight with Wade, who has already won a championship with Miami.
"The only thing that's taken into account is where he can win," Carter said of James's decision in May, before it was announced. "People love winners."
Carter's personal winning streak began in 2005, when James axed his agent Aaron Goodwin, who had handled both basketball and sponsorship contract negotiations for James since he entered the NBA in 2003. A year later, James and Carter, former high school teammates, launched LRMR Innovative Marketing & Branding with two other friends to take over the marketing planning and negotiating for James.
Carter, just 24 at the time, and fresh off of two years of teeth-cutting at Nike, became CEO-;a move that turned heads around the league and in the media. Many said the move would come back to haunt James. "It was upsetting and it was fuel," says Carter.
So over the past four years Carter has set out to prove those critics wrong. He has put together sponsorship deals for James with McDonald's and State Farm, and he negotiated a contract extension with Nike when James's original deal with the sports apparel mammoth expired this year. Carter says James will now focus on strengthening his partnerships with his corporate sponsors rather than adding new ones. Forbes estimates that James made $43 million in salary and endorsements in the past year.
Long term, Carter says his goal is to help the company diversify. To that end, LRMR has inked branding consulting deals with furniture company American Signature and crystal manufacturer Steuben Glass and is rumored to be adding All-Star point guard Chris Paul to its client list.
"There's a lot more than LeBron," Carter says.
In light of the public drubbing James has taken lately, keeping him out of the spotlight-;at least for now-;makes a lot of sense.
JASON DEL REY was a senior reporter covering technology, branding, and company culture for Inc. magazine. Before joining Inc., his work appeared in Newsday, The (Newark) Star-Ledger, and the Staten Island Advance, and on ESPN.com. He lives in New Jersey. @DelRey