Behind the scenes of the nation’s cultural shift on racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death, NBA superstar LeBron James has quietly amassed a $100 million fortune from investors to build a media company that he hopes will give a louder voice to Black people.
With the NBA season suspended due to the coronavirus, James and his business partner Maverick Carter earlier this year established SpringHill Entertainment Co., a conglomerate of three businesses that promote content by Black creators for consumers who have been ignored or underserved, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Perfect storm for business
The company started as an idea in February — but is already poised to be a force in social media, movies, television, clothing and beyond.
Its quick rise has been helped along by the momentous convergence of the ongoing national health crisis with the unrest over systemic racism and police brutality after Floyd’s death.
In a February interview, Carter described SpringHill as a “house of brands” that would be creatively controlled by people of color.
The company currently has about 105 employees, and 64% of them are non-white and 40% are female.
Tennis star Serena Williams serves on the company’s board of directors.
Out of the blue
By the time basketball games paused on March 11, James along with his childhood friend Carter had already raised enough money to establish SpringHill, named after an apartment complex in Akron where James lived in 6th grade.
SpringHill already has a short resume of impressive film and TV production credits and has inked a new deal with Walt Disney Co. Beyond that, the company is working with Netflix on a basketball-themed movie that would star Adam Sandler, according to Bloomberg.
In May, as the pandemic forced the cancellations of graduations across the nation, SpringHill produced an online ceremony called “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020,” which was hosted by James.
It was just one example of how the company could quickly swoop in to fill a void in the American social landscape.
“This is ultimately a company that’s about point of view, the community you serve, and empowerment,” says L.A. investment banker Paul Wachter, who spoke to Bloomberg. “This is a company designed to move the culture.”
LeBron James, the activist
As protests gripped the country over the past month, CEOs of major companies sought advice from James and Carter on how to respond. Those conversations have led to more partnerships amid the growing calls for social justice.
James himself has made the cause of Black civil rights a singular focus on his social media pages, and he is leading a new national effort against voter suppression in Black communities.
The basketball star has publicly expressed outrage over the deaths of Floyd and several other Black Americans, including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks.
About Floyd’s death, he said: “Just seeing that video, how many people were hurt not only in Minneapolis, but all over the world—and especially in the Black community, because we’ve seen this over and over and over. So, you know,” he added, “it’s been a lot that’s gone on in 2020.”
The three-time NBA champion’s philanthropy and activism off the court made headlines long before, but his strategic business moves since the pandemic have quickly snowballed into what could be the beginnings of a major media empire.
SpringHill on the make
SpringHill is also the name behind the NBC game show The Wall, and James’ upcoming film “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” The company is also producing a documentary about the Tulsa massacre of 1921 that left more than 300 Black Americans dead.
James and Carter have strategically created two other companies that operate under the umbrella of SpringHill.
One is called Uninterrupted LLC — and it currently has an online partnership with JPMorgan Chase & Co. and produces the HBO talk show “The Shop: Uninterrupted,” which features James, Carter, and other Black celebrities.
Uninterrupted also has a production-marketing arm that has partnered with sports stars Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird on a Nike shoe and hoodie collection in recognition of Pride Month, Bloomberg reports.
The third branch of SpringHill is Robot Co., a marketing agency, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Money and the power
James is chairman of SpringHill, and Carter is CEO. Devin Johnson serves as SpringHill’s chief operating officer.
A Who’s Who of investors have poured money into the company, including Guggenheim Partners LLC, UC Investments, News Corp. heir Elisabeth Murdoch, and SC.Holdings, the investment fund run by entrepreneur Jason Stein, according to Bloomberg.
Murdoch also serves on the board, along with Serena Williams, Guggenheim’s Scott Minerd, L.A. investment banker Paul Wachter, Apollo Global Management co-founder Marc Rowan, Live Nation Entertainment Inc. CEO Michael Rapino, and Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner, Bloomberg reported.
The NBA recently announced plans to resume the season on July 30 in Orlando.