Top NBA draft pick Cade Cunningham wants to be the next Lebron James off the court

NBA first round draft pick Cade Cunningham is making his mark off the court and he has yet to play a professional basketball game. Cunningham, 19, spoke to Jabari Young, CNBC sports business reporter, about his brand off the court. He now has three endorsement deals after agreeing to terms with energy drink maker Uptime.
Fri, Jul 30 20219:00 AM EDT

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Jabari Young, CNBC Sports Business Reporter

Why Uptime? Is this your first endorsement deal?

Cade Cunningham, 2021 NBA 1st Round Draft Pick

This is my first drink deal. To be able to start with a company like Uptime, I feel like they aligned with me perfectly and the fact that they're vegan, non-GMO, zero sodium, natural caffeine drink company, which really aligns with what I got going on. I've always wanted to drink energy drinks, and things like that. But, the caffeine is so unhealthy. I never really wanted to tap in with them like that. So, now I found a Uptime and have a drink that kind of goes with what I believe in I mean, it's been easy for me.

Jabari Young

Yeah, well, you should be because as we speak you're preparing for probably the biggest moment of your life up until this point, you know, especially as you head into your pro career, we'll talk about that a little bit. But you could have went with any brand. I'm sure there's soda companies is also involved with the energy drink span, you chose a small company, why did you do that?

Cade Cunningham

I chose a small company, just because I felt like the product that they made, is what I liked. I'm not really all for just the big names just because that's what the consensus says. Uptime is a drink that I really liked. And the ingredients, and just the way that they do things kind of line up with what I got going on. And I feel like we were a good partnership together. I felt like I am a good image for them. I feel like I could be a good brand ambassador for them. And they're making a great product for me. So I think that we help each other hand in hand, and them being a smaller company, I'm not really to worried about hopefully, I can help them grow into being a big company.

Jabari Young

So you got Nike on your endorsement list, you got Neiman Marcus on your endorsement list, now Uptime as well. Now, it's like pro career time, you see a lot of people compare you to Luka Doncic, right? You know, and you've also said that yourself, you want to be that dude though. So you want people to say, who does he play like and you want people to say, Oh, he plays like Cade Cunningham, I get that. I love that attitude, translate that to business. If you play like Luka on the court, off the court, who do you want to emulate on the business side?

Cade Cunningham

I feel like LeBron James is the not the only right answer, but the right answer, just because, I mean, he's, he just reached a billion dollars in net worth. So I mean coming from, like we all know him as a kid from Akron. He's put his storyline out there. Just really opened himself up and allow people inside his life and, you know, obviously, he's a great basketball player, but the things that he's doing off the court, like he's changing mindsets in the community. He's a real life influencer. And I feel like that's the best guy to look at right now as a young one coming into the league to see him and I don't know where he's at in his career, but to see him still able to get whatever endorsement he wants and still making all these huge deals that only he can make and just just being a pioneer for athletes, I feel like having that as as a top guy in the league right now, or as a role model for the business side, boy that's huge. Now I feel like he's only been an inspiration to all of us for real.