LeBron James has once again accomplished what few can do. This star athlete, investor and philanthropist has impressed billionaire Warren Buffett with his business savvy.
"People really do have minds that function better than other people's in certain areas that you can't give a test for," said Buffett to USA Today. "And LeBron, in addition to a lot of other talents, he has a money mind. And he gets stuff."
It's this special mind — and how James uses it — that's helped drive James' success in sports and business.
James' "money mind," in part, is an approach. Despite an impoverished upbringing in the inner city, he's became one of the top paid athletes with $85.5 million in earnings. Unlike other players, James never saw basketball as a job but as a business opportunity. As he was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, "The first time I stepped onto an NBA court I became a businessman."
He's invested that money into a range of businesses and philanthropic efforts. In addition to co-founding the digital media platform Uninterrupted, which raised $15.8 million in 2015, James was an early backer of Beats Headphones. When the company sold to Apple for $3 billion, James reportedly earned $30 million. Eventually, he plans to own an NBA team.
He's careful with his money and even his former teammates count on him for money advice. He and his teammates have even been known to split the bill at dinner. Player Iman Shumper said, "We're smart about our coins, man. If I ever wanted to have someone on the team invest my money, it'd be LeBron."
James is careful of where he invests, too, and has made good choices, according to Buffett. "He can separate out the cream from the crap, and you get more of the latter proposed to you than you do of the former," said Buffett to USA Today. "You really have to be able to suss it out."
James also has a powerful memory and pairs it with strategic thinking. Even as a child playing video games, he'd memorize the joystick and button combinations long before these hacks could be easily found on Google. As a result, he'd win every time.
He'd also remember friends' favorite plays and when when they'd use them. Said one friend, "Your only hope is to save [a play] until the end and try to surprise him with it."
He deploys this same strategy on the court. He's a versatile and strategic player who knows how to play his teammates' positions. He also remembers specific plays by specific players, filing that information away until he needs it for a game, even if that day won't come for years later.
Said James, "I'm lucky to have a photographic memory and I've learned how to work with it."
A "numbers guy" he's able to make on-the-fly calculations quickly. His financial advisor once said of James, "Math people are math people. When you approach them with investments and business, they don't just ask the soft questions but eventually get to the hard questions."
James plays close attention to detail, as well. One journalist who covered him closely said he "is a sponge when it comes to soaking up the information that's given to him." That's an asset when talking to coaches or with the top business minds he surrounds himself with, like Buffett, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.
Buffett noticed that the young athlete's savvy when they first met just more than 10 years ago. "He talked smarter about business deals than plenty of MBAs I've met," Buffett said. "he was 21 then… He knew a lot more than I did when I was 21."
Buffett also said James held his own at an investment conference, one that drew CEOs from Fortune 500 companies.
"He's just a smart guy," said Buffett in 2014, "He doesn't miss anything."
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