Most superstar athletes conduct their off-the-court business like this: They hire an agent who secures endorsement deals. The athlete shows up at the appointed time and collects checks and usually agrees to a number of "service days," occasions when he will be present for various PR and marketing events.
James began his pro career this way, but in May 2005 - toward the end of his second year in the NBA - he decided to make a change. He fired his agent, Aaron Goodwin, and established his own firm to handle all aspects of his business ventures. He put Carter, 25 - another Akron native, who had worked for Nike - in charge.
"It was my idea. I wanted to own my own business," he says in the first of two exclusive interviews with Fortune. He also wanted to give his friends a chance to create a professional legacy beyond being flunkies and hangers-on: "How do my guys want to be remembered when LeBron James is finished playing basketball?"
As Carter recalls it, he was home in Ohio in May 2005 and visiting LeBron at his house. "He said, 'Mav, you know, my agent and I are just not seeing eye to eye right now. It's not what I want to do. I'm older now, I'm 20 years old, I'll be 21 in December, and I want to kind of do things differently than anyone has ever done them before. Of course, I grew up watching Michael and the way he did it, and he set the roadmap. I want to run my own business. I want to be my own business.'"
One of biggest problems with MJ was his over saturation. He was everywhere and it appeared (true or not) that he'd endorse any product if the price was right. More than that, I felt MJ could have done more with his name and reputation than be this hired marketing gun.
An athlete using his name and money to form a lasting and sustainable company is a true role model. Not everyone can be play ball like LeBron, but they might be able to run a business like him. And that's a good thing.