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Fresh off a successful feature-film debut in the hit Amy Schumer comedy "Trainwreck," LeBron James has made a major move toward future big-screen appearances. Warner Bros. Entertainment announced Wednesday that it's reached a deal with SpringHill Entertainment — the production company co-founded by the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar and his longtime business partner, Maverick Carter — "spanning all areas of content creation" and that "will see James' creative footprint touch all areas of" Warner Bros.' endeavors, including television, film and digital content.
The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player has already tried his hand at all three. "Survivor's Remorse," the half-hour sitcom he and Carter developed and sold to Starz, returns for its second season on Saturday, Aug. 22. "Becoming," the half-hour series about "the journeys of some of today's top athletes" that he co-produced with ESPN Films, is slated to premiere on Disney XD later this year. He's also working on a prime-time game show with NBC.
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"Uninterrupted," the straight-to-camera Bleacher Report digital video series through which he and other athletes (including Richard Sherman, Rob Gronkowski and Draymond Green) give fans "the uncut, unedited version right then and there of what [their] thoughts are," became a widely watched source of James footage during his annual playoff social media blackout. And James has largely received positive reviews for his performance in "Trainwreck," which opened No. 3 at the box office last weekend behind "Ant-Man" and "Minions" and has already nearly recouped its production budget just four days after its domestic release. (James and Carter have also been developing a film project with comedian Kevin Hart for years; last we heard, that was still trudging along in development.)
After largely meeting with success in his his initial steps into all these media plays, James now looks to develop bigger projects with major studio backing, and Warner Bros. seems like just the place to provide it. From Wednesday's announcement:
“LeBron James has one of the most powerful, well-known brands in the world and we are excited to be in business with him and his partner, Maverick Carter, and SpringHill Entertainment,” said [Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Kevin] Tsujihara. “The combination of LeBron’s global media presence and Warner Bros.’ unmatched production and distribution expertise is a big win for fans everywhere. We’re excited to welcome LeBron and Maverick to the Warner Bros. family and look forward to partnering on incredible projects that will connect with consumers across a variety of platforms.”
“Connecting with my fans and telling meaningful stories have always been my passion. In everything I’ve done, from Nike commercials to Uninterrupted and Survivor’s Remorse, it’s always about connecting with people of all ages and providing unique content they can all enjoy,” said LeBron James. “And I’ve always loved movies, which makes Warner Bros. the ultimate partner to help us continue to push the envelope. I can’t wait to see what we come up with.” [...]
“In everything we do, we think long and hard about how we want to grow and partners that can help us bring our content to the next level. And we’re always looking for new, creative ways to explore ideas that haven’t been done before, and this partnership with Warner Bros. will open a lot of doors for that,” said Maverick Carter, CEO of SpringHill Entertainment.
This sort of broad-based, multi-platform media deal would have seemed unthinkable for James five years ago, when many fans were still seething after watching James announce he was leaving the Cavaliers and taking his talents to South Beach to join the Miami Heat in "The Decision." But time, two titles and a well-executed return trip to Cleveland have largely healed those wounds.
James topped the 2014 Harris Poll as the most popular male athlete in the world. In October, he led Forbes' list of the most valuable individual brands in sports. And according to results of a recent Public Policy Polling study, a higher share of survey respondents had a favorable opinion of James than of All-Star NBA peers like Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose.
People are very into LeBron James again, and Warner Bros. evidently wants to be in the LeBron James business badly enough to sign him to a deal that allows him a reportedly "unprecedented" amount of freedom and control. That's what he's sought more than just about anything else, both in terms of basketball and business, ever since the early days of his career.
"When he realized he could control things," Carter told ESPN's Elena Bergeron in a 2013 story about James' financial acumen, "he didn't ever want that feeling of not being in control again."
As his on-court efforts have fueled the rehabilitation of his off-court image, James has continued to make major moves away from the game, from securing a small ownership stake in Liverpool Football Club to expanding his reach in China through a unique endorsement deal with Dunkin' Donuts to the windfalls resulting from his investments in Beats Electronics and bicycle manufacture Cannondale. Each successful deal brings him closer and closer to his long-ago-stated goal of becoming a billionaire global icon; partnering up with one of the most massive and powerful production houses in Hollywood sure seems like a pretty strong step in that direction.
What remains to be seen, of course, is whether James' new Warner Bros. deal will result in his following in a very particular set of footprints left behind by another basketball-playing billionaire global icon:
— Alex Weprin (@alexweprin) July 22, 2015
James has, in the past, said both that he'd be interested in appearing in a "Space Jam" project and that he was not involved in any current projects to reboot the franchise. That was then, though; it'd make an awful lot of sense for this deal to change things. Nobody should start lining up for tickets just yet, but it might not hurt for the folks at Warner Bros. to give Bill Murray and the Quad City DJs a call, just to make sure they're available. Can't be too careful about these things.
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