For LeBron James, Life Imitates HBO

By Jabari Asim
Monday, May 16, 2005; 11:17 AM

WASHINGTON -- "Paradoxically though it may seem," Oscar Wilde once observed, "it is nonetheless true that Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life."

Wilde didn't quite get it, but we can't blame him for his shortsightedness. After all, he died in 1900, long before the invention of cable television. If he were alive today, he'd probably conclude that life imitates HBO.

That is, if he followed professional sports. Last week LeBron James, one of the country's most gifted and popular athletes, took center stage in a drama that sounded suspiciously like an episode of "Entourage." That HBO show tracks the shenanigans of Vince Chase, a simple pretty-boy-turned-movie star who brings his boyhood pals to La-La Land to perform various tasks -- but mostly just to hang around. He needs them, according to HBO's promotional materials, to help him "navigate the highs and lows of Hollywood's fast lane." The most riveting scenes during the show's first season often revolved around confrontations between Eric, Vince's best friend, and Ari, Vince's gleefully cutthroat agent. It seems that streetwise Eric believes he has the know-how to handle Vince's career. Tensions continually brew between the three men, but Ari manages to hold on to his job.

On May 10, James went the show one better by giving his agent the heave-ho. That would be Aaron Goodwin. The same agent, mind you, who has negotiated for young King James an impressive string of lucrative endorsements to back such products as bubble gum, comic books and athletic apparel. Totaling an estimated $135 million. Plus a $13 million contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Before James ever hoisted a single basketball in a professional game. In gratitude, "the chosen one," as James is fond of being called, has chosen someone else to handle his business.

This kind of move is hardly unprecedented in the high-powered worlds of sports and entertainment. Agents routinely raid one another's rosters, and big stars frequently switch their allegiance to whomever they believe can get them the biggest deal. So, like a lot of sports fans, when I first heard about LeBron's move, I looked to see what big shot snatched him from Goodwin's vigilant grip. David Falk, maybe? He shepherded the immortal Michael Jordan to ever-glorious heights. Dwight Manley, perhaps? He's negotiated contracts for such NBA all-stars as Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman. Good guesses, but no. From now on the superstar's multimillion-dollar career will be handled by Maverick Carter and associates.

Before adding James to the fold, the trio handled deals for -- well, let's see: no one. It seems Carter, Randy Mims and Richard Paul are old friends of LeBron, who is all of 20. As a high school senior, Carter was captain of the state champion team at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, an undefeated squad that included a promising freshman named LeBron James. NBA insiders have described Carter as smart and ambitious, but he has little education -- brief stints at Western Michigan and the University of Akron -- and precious little work experience. It is easy to imagine veteran dealmakers licking their chops.

Not everyone looks at the arrangement with skepticism. Reebok executive Sonny Vaccaro, who has known both James and Carter for years, has expressed confidence in the new alliance's potential. "I'm telling you this kid (Carter) is smart," Vaccaro said to a reporter. "I talked to Maverick recently and used an old line from 'The Godfather' on him. I said, 'Maverick, you guys are going to be bigger than U.S. Steel."' Of course, Vaccaro may be thinking ahead to the expiration of James' contract with Nike in 2010. As for Aaron Goodwin, he's taking the high road. "For nearly three years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to represent LeBron James as his agent," he noted in a statement. He went on to "wish LeBron and his family the very best."

LeBron's pals will need more than good wishes to prove themselves adept at the ultra-competitive sports-management game. If they succeed, the superstar's gutsy move could turn out to be a brilliant decision. Or it could be the wackiest sports-agent bungle since running back Ricky Williams hired No Limit Sports, owned by rapper Master P, to oversee his first NFL contract back in 1999. In which case, another nugget from Oscar Wilde will be distressingly appropriate:

"Most men and women are forced to perform parts for which they have no qualification."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company