Showtime: LeBron James’ business, basketball worlds collide in Los Angeles

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When LeBron James told the world he was headed for Tinsel Town, announcing Sunday that he agreed to sign a four-year, $154 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers that sent shockwaves throughout the NBA, he did so in a way that was as non-Hollywood as one could imagine.

There was no Nike commercial sharing the story of his latest relocation, nor a story published on his Los Angeles-based media company, Uninterrupted. And there was certainly no repeat of “The Decision,” the much-maligned ESPN appearance in 2010 where James revealed he was leaving Cleveland for Miami.

There was merely a press release e-mailed to media members, timed perfectly with a 5:05 p.m. PT tweet from the agency that represents James, the Klutch Sports Group, and was founded by his childhood friend from Akron, Ohio, agent Rich Paul.

“LeBron James, four time NBA MVP, three time NBA Finals MVP, fourteen time NBA All Star, and two time Olympic gold medalist has agreed to a four year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.”He may as well have faxed it to reporters, a la Michael Jordan when he came out of retirement in 1995.

But when it comes to the motivation behind James’ move, it has been clear for quite some time that he was drawn in by the allure of the entertainment capital. James, who bought a $23 million home in Brentwood in December that was his second home in the area, has spent recent offseasons living with his wife, Savannah, their two sons and their daughter in Los Angeles.

Flip through the gallery to see photos of LeBron James through the years, from high school to 2018. Not only did James co-found Uninterrupted with his business partner, Maverick Carter, in Los Angeles, but they paired up to start the production company, Springhill Entertainment, in L.A. as well. In 2015, James starred in the Universal comedy, Trainwreck, which was anything but.

His challenge now, of course, is to make sure the 2018-19 Lakers don’t inspire a Trainwreck II. This is the riskiest move of James’ career, as these Lakers are mired in the worst stretch of their storied history, and it remains to be seen if there are any more stars coming their way (the Lakers have been in talks with San Antonio about disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard, though talks have cooled recently). After missing the playoffs just four times from 1960 to 2013, the Lakers have been on the outside looking in five consecutive times.

And while their 35-47 record under coach Luke Walton last season marked a nine-game improvement from the season prior, the notion of James continuing his personal Finals streak (eight and counting) is tough to fathom considering the competition in the Western Conference. The back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors loom largest, with the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder expected to be in contention as well.

JaVale McGee: Reportedly agrees to sign with Los Angeles Lakers. Kelley L Cox, USA TODAY Sports
Lakers owner Jeanie Buss deserves the assist for getting this done, as she’s the one who made the bold move in Feb. 2017 of firing her own brother, Jim Buss, and longtime general manager, Mitch Kupchak, after years of failed free agency pitches. Magic Johnson came in as an adviser and then president of basketball operations, and Rob Pelinka, the longtime agent of Kobe Bryant, became general manager. The overhaul was complete, with Buss pushing for more synergy between the front office and ownership with the hopes that it would lead to this kind of prize.

But according to a person with knowledge of James’ thinking, it was Johnson who closed this monumental deal. The Lakers legend met with James in one of his Los Angeles homes for approximately three hours on Saturday night, when the NBA’s free agency period tipped off.

It was just Johnson, James, and Paul, discussing everything from business to basketball to social activism. James wouldn’t make his final decision then, as Paul would go on to meet with officials from the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday before that tweet heard ‘round the world.

As Bryant put it in a Twitter direct message to USA TODAY Sports late Sunday night – by way of the raised hands emoji – the Lakers finally finished in free agency.

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