Posted by Tyler Roque

He’s LeBron’s business partner. One of the famous Four Horsemen who grew up with King James in Ohio. And one of the only people on earth who knows if that lifetime Nike deal was really worth a billion dollars. Here, Maverick Carter shares his battle-tested tactics—and the big secret.

Like Clint Eastwood and Christopher Nolan, Maverick Carter has his office on the Warner Bros. studio lot. Once you get past security, you drive by pinup western storefronts to a section of cookie-cutter houses with vinyl siding. (Gilmore Girls was filmed here.) Even the grass looks like it's from Milwaukee. Outside one of the houses are reserved parking spots that read: “M. Carter” and “L. James.” That and the shiny silver Maybach parked out front are the only tells that inside this unassuming house, the future of sports marketing and entertainment is being crafted. This is where Maverick Carter gets to work.

Carter is LeBron's friend from Akron—he was a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High when 'Bron was a freshman. He's also the Cavs star's business manager. But most important, he's the creative director of all things King James. What does that entail? Well, NBA basketball and an apparel empire. A Hollywood production company. (The Starz showSurvivor's Remorse is Mav's.) A scholarship program. And a media platform called Uninterrupted, where players tell their own stories.

Here, the man who just played a central role in the largest celebrity apparel deal of all time breaks down his negotiating strategies, his regrets—and how he turned a ballplayer from Akron into a billion-dollar global brand.

 

GQ Style: You're really making a go of this Hollywood thing. Was this always the goal? Was 8-year-old Maverick Carter dreaming about Hollywood?

Maverick Carter: No. It was never my dream.

When did it become your dream?
When people ask what college I graduated from, I say: I didn't graduate from college. I graduated from Nike. I started my career as an intern getting coffee. I was working in sports marketing, which means building the brands of Nike and the athletes. What I realized after I left Nike is that they tell stories. These shoes I have on are just shoes. Obviously, they put some technology in it. This is knit. This is lunar. Blah blah blah. But they tell you the best story ever about this sneaker. They tell better stories than anyone in Hollywood. So it was just a natural evolution: marketing, storytelling, building your brand, producing content. I'd been doing it my whole life already.

What do you think is the biggest mistake you've made so far?
[takes a moment to think] When I first left Nike to go work with LeBron and manage him, I was really bullish about managing other athletes. I really wanted to get more athletes besides LeBron and build this big management practice. And in hindsight that was a mistake.

Why was it a mistake?
A couple of reasons. One is that there's only one LeBron. Another reason is that other athletes always viewed me as LeBron's guy. They thought: He can't be my guy, too. It was a mistake because I lost time on it. And managing LeBron was enough. It was plenty to do.

When I was a kid, being a businessman meant that you wore a suit every day and ate steak dinners. But you're wearing sweats, drinking a green juice. What does being a businessman in 2016 mean to you?
The biggest thing it means is that you have to be infinitely flexible. Tech is changing every industry every single day. All the cards are on the table now. And when all the cards are on the table, the game changes. You have to play it a different way. So I think it means being curious and flexible while still having principles you live by and guardrails that you do business within.

Speaking of cards, how much of your job is actually risky?
It's all a risk. That's the beauty of it. Some people are just more prepared to take risks than others. I grew up a gambler. That's my name: Maverick. That's what it comes from. My grandmother ran an after-hours joint, and they played cards and shot craps. But you have to know: What's my baseline? What's the worst that could happen to me? And that's what life is all about. Every decision you make, you're simply evaluating risk versus reward.

A lot of successful businessmen are perceived as assholes. Is Maverick Carter an asshole?
That's a very good question. You know, you hate to call yourself an asshole, but yes. You have to be. It's very hard to get shit done while always being super-extra nice. And ultimately, what is an asshole? It's a person who has supreme confidence and believes in what he's doing. It's hard to get anything done without being an asshole.

So you just negotiated an unprecedented lifetime contract for LeBron with Nike. What's your secret to being a great negotiator?
You have to go into the room understanding a couple things. You have to know what you want. You have to know how to clearly articulate those things. You have to know what's important to the other side and what they want. Be able to articulate those things, too. And then you have to be willing to not take everything. If you go into the negotiation like, I'm gonna get every dollar, every piece of real estate—I'm just gonna take this guy's fucking pants off—you may be able to do that once, maybe twice, but after that, people aren't going to want to do business with you. When you're negotiating something like the Nike deal, it's gonna last a lifetime, literally. The minute this negotiation's over, we're gonna work with these people every day. So you don't want to leave them with a bad feeling.

How much was the deal for?
I can't say.

Come on, Mav! Can you ballpark it?
What are people saying?

Kanye said a billion. So a billion.
[Maverick smiles and points one finger skyward.]

Holy shit.
Yeah. It's a fantastic deal. Nike feels great about the deal. That's the most important thing. As great as I feel, as great as LeBron feels—Nike feels fantastic about it. It's the largest deal in the history of the company. Their hope is he makes even more. And our hope is that, too, obviously.

Read Full Article on GQ by Mark Anthony Green