LeBron James went from the projects to earning $89 million a year—here's how he teaches his kids about money

LeBron James and daughter Zhuri James
Slaven Vlasic | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Before LeBron James exploded onto the basketball scene, he and his mom were living in the projects of Akron, Ohio, and struggling to make ends meet. They moved from one apartment to the next every few months and got by with help from food stamps.

Just before graduating high school and foregoing college to enter the NBA draft, "rent was like $17 a month," James tells his business partner and lifelong friend Maverick Carter on the first episode of UNINTERRUPTED's new podcast, "Kneading Dough."

Today, in his 16th season in the NBA, James is the highest-paid player in the league: His earnings, including salary and endorsements, total $88.7 million for the 2018-2019 season, Forbes reports.

As a result, his three kids are "beyond the top," James tells Carter. "They will never understand that there's a bottom and that's the challenge … that I have to juggle with: How do I raise my kids knowing that they will never feel or understand what their father went through?"

LeBron James and his family after receiving the MVP trophy for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game
Nathaniel S. Butler | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

The NBA star admits that parenting is "very difficult" and no book gives you all the answers. His philosophy is simple, though, and fairly hands-off: "You just give them life goals, you give them challenges — and at the end of the day, they're going to have to walk their own path, just like we did."

That's because, he adds, "no matter if you came from the top of the top or you came from the bottom of the bottom, you still have a road to travel."

While his kids — LeBron, 14, Bryce, 11, and Zhuri, 4, — will never understand what it was like to grow up poor, he tries to keep them as grounded as possible. The main lesson that he wants to pass along to his kids is to "appreciate what they have," he says, and not take money for granted: "Don't just think that it can always be accessible to you."

After all, they haven't earned any yet, he says: "At the end of the day, I'm your dad and your mother is your mother and we're going to give you what we want to give you."

No matter if you came from the top of the top or you came from the bottom of the bottom, you still have a road to travel.
LeBron James

One of the ways he helps his kids maintain perspective, he tells Carter, is by making sure they know how ordinary people travel.

"I'm in a position now where it's very hard for me to fly commercial. It's just a hassle. I want my privacy. I want my downtime ... so I fly private," he says. His kids can't assume they get to too, though. While there are times when they join him on his private plane, James says, he and his wife "try to balance it. Like, OK, yeah, we're going to fly private sometimes, but at the same time, we're going to fly commercial [too], just to make sure [they] see both sides of the fence."

Kevin O'Leary has a similar parenting style: He flies first class, but he makes his kids Trevor and Savannah fly coach.

As the "Shark Tank" star recalls to CNBC Make It, on one occasion, "we were getting on a flight to Geneva. It's a long flight, and Trevor said to me, 'Dad, why is it every time we get on this flight, I have to take a left and go sit in the back of the plane, and you take a right and go to the front? [You] sit in a big chair and they roll roast beef on a trolley by you, and I'm back in 69D.'"

O'Leary had a simple answer: "I say, 'Trevor, you don't have any money.'"

"My son is making the connection between money and personal freedom," O'Leary writes in his book, "Cold Hard Truth on Family, Kids and Money." "I think that's the greatest gift I've ever given him: to help him see that connection. And I constantly reinforce it by doing Mean Dad things like making him sit in those crappy economy seats."

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This is the crucial money lesson LeBron James' uncles taught him when he was a kid