Politics makes for strange bedfellows, and money makes for even stranger ones. Witness: the budding lovefest between LeBron James, 27-year-old multimillionaire and best player in the NBA, and Warren Buffett, 82-year-old multibillionaire and second-richest man in the country.
James is coming off a year in which he achieved every possible height in his chosen profession: MVP, championship, Olympic gold medal. But he's always had his eye on larger prizes. He's long wanted to join Tiger Woods and Michael Schumacher as billion-dollar athletes, and he's in the process of collecting a team that might just make that happen.
And Warren Buffett is a solid first-round draft pick for that team. Buffett recently told the Miami Herald that he believes LeBron has what it takes to succeed in the boardroom.
"You have to get to know him," Buffett said. "LeBron's not initially really talkative. He's savvy. He's smart about financial matters. It's amazing to me the maturity he exhibits. I know that if I had been famous at that age, I would have had trouble keeping my feet on the ground." (What kind of a vertical leap do you figure Buffett has?)
LeBron is still reeling, from a PR perspective, from "The Decision," the infamous 2010 free-agency freakshow where he announced his plans to take his "talents to South Beach." That mess somehow made both Cleveland and Miami look bad and James look even worse.
But his bank account is doing just fine. He earned $53 million in 2011, according to Forbes, $40 million of which came from endorsements. That puts him behind only Woods and boxers Floyd Maywether and Manny Pacquiao. But it's still a long way from there to a billion, and that's where Buffett and others come in. James will be looking to maximize sponsor opportunities, and at the moment he's got his choice of high-profile companies, such as Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Samsung.
Plus, James doesn't like to just shill for a product; he likes to own a piece of it, too. He's involved in partnerships or ownership stakes in everything from furniture to headphones to bikes. He even owns a chunk of Liverpool (the soccer club, not the city ... yet).
He's also in a buzzworthy media market in Miami (sorry, Oklahoma City), he's in a sport with global appeal, and more importantly, he's now winning. That cures all ills, even self-inflicted ones. Buffett has taught his young apprentice well.
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-
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