Among The Motley Fool's favorite pithy pieces of advice to dish out is this little gem: "When in doubt financially, do the opposite of your favorite athlete." But if your No. 1 fantasy draft pick happens to be Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, you should make an exception.
In this segment from Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp cut to the chase and discuss some of the smart habits, thoughtful business dealings, and Fool-friendly fiscal moves that make James worth emulating in your personal financial life.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on March 13, 2018.
Alison Southwick: Are you ready for the first lesson?
Robert Brokamp: I'm so ready.
Southwick: LeBron is not paying for it. In 2015, he inked a lifetime endorsement with Nike that was worth north of $1 billion. Forbes estimates his net worth is $400 million. Despite all that, Dwayne Wade declared LeBron James the cheapest guy in the NBA and LeBron had to agree.
He doesn't turn on data roaming. He does it by apps. He still listens to Pandora with ads. In the interview he said, "I'm just not paying for it!" He insists that he drives a Kia to work and even sometimes rides a bike.
What's his biggest money regret? Buying a house in Las Vegas when he was in his early 20s. I guess they had their training camp out there and he thought, "Well, I'll just buy a house." But James said of his younger self, "Who buys a house in Vegas?"
His frugality is apparently rubbing off on his teammates. A shooting guard for the Cavs, Iman Shumpert, told the site Wealthsimple that the whole team is actually surprisingly frugal.
LeBron's production company, along with JPMorgan, also produced a show about athletes and the lessons they learned about money, which is pretty cool, because they talked about their mistakes and stuff. So, yes, he is frugal, but he does also own a bunch of nice cars and other toys, so I don't think he is suffering.
Brokamp: And he's generous with his money as well.
Southwick: Oh, we'll get to that. Supposedly he spent $171,000 one night in a Las Vegas nightclub. Let's have some fun with math, shall we, Bro?
Brokamp: Let's do that.
Southwick: So, if his net worth is $400 million, according to Forbes , LeBron spending $171,000 on a night out is the equivalent of someone with $1 million net worth spending ... do you want to guess?
Brokamp: Not the worst thing in the world.
Southwick: Not the worst thing.
Brokamp: I've never spent that much in a night, but that's all right.
Brokamp: A night on the town?
Southwick: Not on a birthday party? A party? You've never spent $427 on a party?
Brokamp: No, no. If you consider taking the family to a Broadway play, or something like that, certainly it has cost that much.
Southwick: Absolutely. I mean, it's not like he's doing this all the time. I assume it's a special thing to celebrate something. Anyway, so you're spending just as bad as LeBron. As a night out in Las Vegas. Way to go. But except for it's a Broadway play with a 12-year-old.
LeBron watches what he spends, but I think he also spends on things that really matter to him, and we just got done talking about the importance of watching what you spend.
Brokamp: Exactly. I know that Sports Illustrated article that you cited previously, and it goes through many instances of people who made millions of dollars, but then spent millions more. In the end you've just got to live below your means if you want to build your wealth.
Southwick: The next way you can invest like LeBron is that LeBron thinks long term. Here's a direct quote. He said, "I know that once I get off the floor there's going to be more of my time spent off than on. So, from age 9 to -- if you make it to 40 -- that's 31 years of your life. But from 40 to 85 or 90 -- hopefully I'm lucky to get to 90 -- that's 50 years. I still have to live life beyond the hardwood." And this is going to come up a lot in the other points, is that he is always thinking long term in his money decisions.
Here's one we can debate the value. Supposedly he spends $1.5 million a year on taking care of his body. This includes personal trainers, chefs, equipment, all that kind of stuff.
Brokamp: Well, I don't know where the money is going to. Obviously, it's an investment that has paid off. For every year that he is able to play, it's worth millions of dollars to him. It sounds like, from a pure financial standpoint, it probably is a good investment, but I don't know exactly what's going into that.
Southwick: The calculations? According to his coach, despite being 32, he has the body of a 19-year-old.
Brokamp: Well, that sounds pretty good.
Southwick: So, where are your ...?
Brokamp: In the trunk.
Southwick: Oh, that's bad. Your laugh was kind of creepy, and then you had to say that. The body of a 19-year-old. Heh-heh-heh. That sounds pretty good.
Brokamp: I mean, he's a handsome man, but I'm happily married, so I didn't mean it in any way like that.
Southwick: That's kind of what it sounds like, though. And then you have a body in the trunk? It's crazy to me that even as an 18-year-old at such a young age, he's been thinking the long term and the long haul and life beyond basketball. Put the smartest 18-year-old, drag him into this studio, and they're still pretty dumb. No offense, 18-year-olds, but I was you once. Pretty dumb.
Brokamp: I don't know enough about his life story to know what he attributes that to. I do know that he really never knew his father. His mother struggled. He saw that and he, at one point -- I think it was on Instagram -- thanked his dad for not being in his life, because it drove him to success. And especially when you look at a sports career, on the average it's two to three years. You have to be planning for beyond that. Kudos to him for first of all being able to do it for as long as he has but thinking of the fact that it's possible that in any given day, you can have some sort of career-ending injury, and he's thinking beyond that.
Southwick: The next lesson. LeBron is a businessman and a business man. As he once said, "The first time I stepped on the NBA court, I became a businessman, and this is a great opportunity for me." Soon after he signed with the Cavs -- remember, he's 18 years old -- Reebok invited him to their offices and offered him a $10 million endorsement deal and said, "You can take this right now. Just promise us you won't talk to Nike or Adidas." They literally slid him a check worth $10 million across the table.
And here he is an 18-year-old kid. He thinks, "If this guy is willing to give me $10 million, who's not to say Nike or Adidas won't give me $20 million or $30 million?" And throughout his life, he has continued to bet on himself longer term versus getting that short-term money today.
Another example is how he looks at endorsement deals as partnerships and not just about shilling products and how he's betting on himself. It's not unusual for celebrities to invest in restaurants. Planet Hollywood, anyone? It seems like every athlete has invested in his cousin's restaurant. LeBron was an early investor in Blaze Pizza. It's like Chipotle meets pizza. You point at stuff and you're like, "Put that on my pizza," and then they fire it up really quick.
Anyway, when his endorsement deal with McDonald's was up for renewal, instead of taking the $15 million, LeBron opted to endorse Blaze Pizza for free. According to Business Insider, he now owns 17 Blaze franchises. The company sales rose 83% last year to $185 million and are projected to hit $1.1 billion in 2022. His initial investment of $1 million is now worth $25 million, according to ESPN. LeBron says, "You started from the bottom and you created something that you can look at and say, 'Wow! We did that. We did that, and we own it. That's a really cool thing. And if it doesn't become successful, then I can only blame myself.'"
There's a phrase by Warren Buffett that we really love here at The Motley Fool. In fact, we have it up on the wall in our Buffett conference room and that's, "I'm a better investor because I'm a businessman and I'm a better businessman because I am an investor." I think that really gets to where LeBron is when it comes to a lot of his business dealings. He approaches them as being a partner. He approaches them for the long term. But he approaches them as being a larger part of his overall brand, and life, and what he wants to be and do, as opposed to just, "Yeah, give me some money and I'll say whatever you want to the camera."
Brokamp: Yes. And this is a point Buffett often makes -- and we do here at The Motley Fool -- in terms of when you invest. You look at yourself as a part owner of that business. And it's true. I own shares of Starbucks, so I am a legal part owner of Starbucks, and it does make you look differently at the investment rather than just a number that goes up and down in your bank statement or your brokerage statement.
Southwick: Particularly with the Blaze Pizza investment, you can tell he's really proud of it. You can tell he's proud that he made this decision to not promote McDonald's. I don't know where the stock price is lately. I know for a while it was not doing well. Then back this company that he really believed in, really loved their product, and he feels like he is part of the success of this company and not just throwing money at a problem. Are you ready for another lesson?
Brokamp: I am.
Southwick: LeBron diversifies. There's his paycheck for playing basketball. It's not too shabby. There are his record-breaking endorsement deals. He's invested in restaurants, football clubs, and start-ups. In fact, he earned $30 million from investing in Beats Headphones.
And he's also a movie star. The New Yorker said that he was the funniest person in Amy Schumer's movie Trainwreck. Did you see him in Trainwreck?
Brokamp: I did not.
Southwick: Rick's shaking his head. He was funny.
Rick Engdahl: He was very good.
Southwick: He was very good in Trainwreck. He also has his own production company for movies and TV. They've created content for Netflix, NBC, HBO, and yes, they are even working on a remake of the Kid 'n Play movie House Party. Do you remember that movie?
Brokamp: Oh, yeah.
Southwick: Of course, you do. You've talked about this a lot on the show -- the idea of thinking about where you are bringing in money. Whether you can make money on the side. Like side gigs are such a big thing right now.
Brokamp: And it doesn't have to be necessarily something outside of your employer. You could be doing more stuff within your company. You could be looking at where you could add the most value to your employer and then making that known. You have your human capital.
And he has his human capital -- that's playing basketball -- but then he's parlayed that into investment capital. Think of your human capital. How can you enhance that? But then it really has value once you use that to invest in other businesses.
Southwick: And going back to the advice from his coach when he was a kid about using basketball to get someplace. Getting to basketball is not the end. It's using basketball to get someplace else. That is really the goal.
Finally, LeBron believes in education. He was drafted out of high school to the NBA, which means, of course, he didn't get his college degree. Remember how he said he was an honor roll student? So, he intends to return and has already signed up at the University of Akron. He just needs to find some free time. He is particularly fond of math and history.
The LeBron James Family Foundation is primarily focused on education and he has pledged $41 million to helping at-risk kids from elementary school up to college stay in school. James has said that it's the most important professional accomplishment of his life.
Aside from the traditional sense of education, he also makes a point to learn from business experts. He's been seen dining with Carlos Slim. Like I said, he's a friend of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer. CNBC asked Buffett to give LeBron advice for what one should invest in next. They cut to a video and someone's like, "What should I invest in next?" And Buffett said -- so boring -- "Make monthly investments into low-cost index funds and hold for the next 30 to 40 years." So, what's good for LeBron is good for you, too, according to Warren Buffett.
Brokamp: That's true, and we'll touch on that a little bit later.
Southwick: And, of course we, here, at The Motley Fool really love continuing education, and we really love learning from other people, too.
Brokamp: Right. And for me that goes back to the whole human capital part, and that you look at ways that you can enhance your career, diversify your income, get designations or advanced degrees that matter. Don't just get a degree and pay thousands of dollars for something that doesn't matter. But depending on your field, getting some sort of extra skill or certification actually will do a great deal for opening opportunities for you, or even just meriting higher pay.
Southwick: I also like the idea that he's using his stature as a great athlete to be able to pick up the phone, call Warren Buffett, and say, "Hey, can I take you out for dinner?" He's broadening the company that he's keeping in order to learn from these other experts. These entrepreneurs. These businessmen. I wish I could just drop Warren Buffett an email and hear back from him.
Brokamp: Not everyone can do that. That's true.
Southwick: No, not just anyone. Some of us are luckier than others. Spoiler! A spoiler for later in the show! My closing thoughts, here. I think the biggest takeaway is yes, he's good with money, but he also works really hard.
He works hard at being the best athlete he can be, he works hard at managing his money the best he can, and it's mind-boggling. I'm sure he watches Game of Thrones like the rest of us, but it made me think about what opportunities I've wasted or how I could have maybe used my time for education, investing, or family. Yes, he's a successful athlete, actor, philanthropist, and investor.
I have several half-finished knitting projects and a thriving orchid.
Engdahl: And the body of a 19-year-old.
Southwick: I wish. Oh! But I do have this podcast, and I do have you guys as friends, so I'll put that in the win column for me.
Brokamp: That's true.