"Now that you have graduated, the goal should not be to seek a job, or even a career, but to seek a calling."

That's the advice Nike founder Phil Knight gave last year at the Stanford Graduate School of Business's diploma ceremony. LeBron James, who earlier this week agreed to a lifetime contract with Nike worth significantly more than $500 million, according to USA Today, must have been listening. 

It's now clear that James views his calling as something more than the profession of playing basketball. The best way to describe James's calling would be to compare him to someone like Martha Stewart: a brand platform. 

James is only 30 years old, but a short list of his credentials shows just how diversified beyond basketball his brand platform already is. He is, as my colleague Zoe Henry noted not long ago, a major investor in Blaze Pizza, a growing chain that hopes to do to Domino's what Uber did to cabs. His latest media project, Uninterrupted, launched late last year and is off to a superb start. It's a simple concept: A web site where star athletes share short video diaries from their smartphones, saying whatever they please. The site has a prominent web address as a subsection of the Bleacher Report sports site, and it has already received a $15.8 million investment from Warner Bros. and Turner Sports.

It's also a safe bet to say James will be making a comedic turn in a major motion picture every now and then, for the foreseeable future. He's not afraid to poke fun at himself, or the public perception of himself, as he showed this summer in the film Trainwreck:  


So with its investment in James's career, Nike is getting way more than a basketball player. They're getting a partnership with an exceptionally integrated and diversified brand, someone who can represent Nike and potentially give it visibility in places it has not yet treaded: major motion picture comedies and healthy fast-order delivery pizza. 

Of course, James also will be a massive marketing force in basketball for the next several seasons. At age 30, he has plenty of seasons left. And as Nike has already shown in its partnership with Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook, Nike does not view the basketball stars in its stable as mere celebrity endorsers. Westbrook is more like the co-creator and fashion consultant of his own brand.

Which means that even when their playing days are over, both Westbrook and James could have roles in the ever-intersecting worlds of athletic gear and high fashion. 

What's more, James could very easily follow Michael Jordan's footsteps and one day become the owner of a pro basketball team one day. In this way, too, he would have value to Nike when his playing days are over. Which makes it easy to see why a lifetime contract made sense for both sides--and both brands. 

Published on: Dec 9, 2015