Will Marriage Help or Hurt LeBron James’ Brand?

Weighing the pros and cons of marriage and a prenup on a the NBA star's tainted brand

(Image: Getty)

After years of dating, Miami Heat guard LeBron James finally proposed to the mother of his two sons, and high school sweetheart, Savannah Brinson. The NBA all-star popped the question at SL Nightclub in Miami during a New Year’s Eve celebration, which doubled as his 27th birthday party, with a ring reportedly worth $300,000. While news of the engagement is certainly reason to celebrate, given the growing trend of high profile NBA divorces and just as a rule of thumb for anyone with a lot of assets, some suggest James should also err in the side of caution.

According to Forbes.com, three out of the top five most hated NBA players–Kris Humphries, Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker–have gone through very public and costly divorces. Coincidentally, following his controversial move from Cleveland to Miami, James is second on that list of despised basketball stars. If his marriage where to fail due to infidelity or any other public disgrace, his image and brand could go from bad to worse. Furthermore, James’ wallet could get hit just as hard. Bryant will be digging deep into his pockets as his ex-wife is reported to be getting $75 million of his earnings, since a prenuptial agreement was not signed.

Celebrity divorce attorney, Raoul Felder, who’s also known as “the Duke of Divorce,” gives three simple pieces of advice to superstar athletes like James embarking on the road to marriage. “Prenup, prenup, prenup,” says Felder, who has handled the divorce cases of World Heavyweight Champions Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe, NBA legend Patrick Ewing and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “I’ve had athletes come into my office saying they didn’t want to create a prenup for fear of hurting their spouse. But I promise it will hurt more when she’s taking half.”

According to Felder, though, divorce doesn’t always have to ruin an athlete’s image. Public perception tends to sway towards the negative when there is an oddity or extreme case of infidelity like Tiger Woods and his ex-wife, Elin Nordegren.

If an athlete still doesn’t want to heed Felder’s advice, he suggests a post-nuptial agreement, which is generally harder to implement because the wife (or dependent spouse) generally has most of the negotiating power. If she doesn’t agree with the terms, the only thing left is divorce where she could receive the bulk of the reward. Another option is for an athlete is to create separate bank accounts for funds acquired before and after marriage. Therefore, if the union does end in divorce it’s easier to distinguish which funds the spouse has a right to. “Athlete divorce cases are interesting because many times their worth is represented by future earnings and endorsements,” Felder says. “A player could stop playing tomorrow but still be worth millions and his spouse could have access to that money.”

Pro golfer Tiger Woods at press conference

According to Forbes.com, James made $14.5 million in salary and an additional $30 million in endorsements last year. Sports Illustrated also listed him as the third highest earning athlete in the United States in 2011, right behind golfers Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. With that in mind, the seven-time NBA All-Star would be wise to protect himself as Brinson would be in for a huge pay day if the marriage ended without a prenup in place.

However, marriage doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom for the two-time NBA MVP. Marvet Britto, President and CEO of The Britto Agency, a public relations firm, says the impending nuptials could actually boosts James’ image, which took a nosedive after his “decision” to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in favor of the Miami Heat in 2010. “Marriage helps players because it positions them as a more responsible, more structured athlete and in turn makes them more desirable to consumers and endorsers,” says Britto, who has represented a host of athletes including NBA stars Latrell Sprewell, Stephon Marbury and Tyson Chandler. “Staying unmarried to Savannah and having multiple children doesn’t help LeBron, who is trying to recreate his image after leaving Cleveland. It benefits him more to make the commitment.”

Although marriage can improve an athlete’s brand, Britto doesn’t advise James to take the leap just for the sake of his image. She says a single man can build just as lucrative of a brand as a married one, the key is remaining true to who you are. Twelve-time MLB All-Star, five-time World Series champion and lifetime bachelor, Derek Jeter is a prime example of this. If James isn’t mature enough to be married, one public slip up in his marriage could send him right back into the role of villain that he fell into in the summer of 2010.

As a safety net, marriage expert and author of Before You Wed… Read This Darryl Cobbin advises James and any other individual looking to protect his/her assets to sit down with their partner and write down their expectations for each other, determine what is important and discuss them together. For James and Brinson, this may mean discussing participation in impromptu decision-making shows or preseason championship-like celebrations and most importantly a prenuptial agreement.

Using his NBA buddies as cautionary tales, James should contemplate what he wants his brand to be and how he will secure his hard-earned fortune before he walks down the aisle. “LeBron James’ life can either be a warning or an example,” Cobbin. “It’s up to him to make the decision.”

  • robert

    Does anybody really care????

    • SHAR


  • Vulture

    Who cares? He’s an idiot is he goes through with it. Just be like Jeter and enjoy life.

  • tiffany

    If he wasn’t marrying a Black woman, this dumb@$$ article wouldn’t have been written. And why does someone’s “brand” factor into a decision like marriage. If “brand” is that important don’t get married at all!

    Also if an athlete is married and it comes out that he has cheated on his wife, of course that would have a negative impact on their “brand”. I can’t believe this foolishness is in BLACK Enterprise. Typical.

    • Rigo

      Also I do understand that there are A LOT of men who are sex hugrny and are very promiscuous (mainly due to testosterone) but if you think about it if your basing it off of sexual things.. a lot of men are thus not much marriage material either. Maybe it is supposed to be this way? It used to be that people felt obligated to stay in a marriage due to religion, cultural views, family but now that america is more individualistic and more women are independent it makes sense!

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  • MellowTop

    Marriage can only help him. God blesses marriages, not hurt them.

    • SHAR


  • E. Joyce

    Marry, don’t marry. Personal decision. But money wise, he hopefully knows that as long as he treats each million earned as though he only has $420000 he should be fine. It’s those who spend each million as if it’s a million who get into financial trouble.

  • D Crosby

    Poor Kobe. He’s got to get by with only $75 million. How will he survive?

    • SHAR


  • аренда квартир пхукет

    Hello my loved one! I want to say that this article is awesome, nice written and include approximately all vital infos. I would like to look more posts like this .

  • Chris

    Are we serious? Black Enterprise is getting into the discussion of marriage with branding? Are we fucking serious? Did Ms. Adena Andrew’grandmother and grandfather have branding issues when they got married? You know this generation has gone the left side of the fork with this technology shit. Did MichaelJoedan lose his brand when he married Juanita? No! Fools were still buying Jordan shoes, stomping over people in the mall on brand new shoe opening day, putting people at gunpoint for Joedan shoes. So no! If LeBron just wins “not one, not two, not three” championships, this is a mute point. I can’t believe you could only come up with this article for your contribution to this magazine this month. I can’t believe the Graves looked at this article and approved it for printing. Like black people need more doubt about the institution of marriage. Thanks Adena. As if we need more unwed baby mommas around this nation. As if we need another Miami living “Unsung” Basketball Wife potential feature. Thanks Adena. As if we need the James children to have their parents go their separate way eventually. Thanks Adena. Thanks for helping black families with your sound business advice. I hope its working for you. Thanks Adena.

  • Michael Walker, CPA

    I do not think LeBron is sweating it. He’s been with her since day one so its not like she’s gold digger. Even with giving her half, he’s still be wealthy (NOT RICH) beyond his wildest dreams. He’s probably already went over the scenario with his financial advisors and CPAs (yes, I show you how to do this son); they’ve went over the numbers and LeBron’s lifestyle would not change a bit with providing his ex-wife and children half his fortune. As Forrest Gump said, “mamma always said there is only so much money you need, the rest of for showing off” So, NO, MARRIAGE AND/OR DIVORCE WOULD NOT HURT LEBRON ONE BIT, especially if he WINS SOME CHAMPIONSHIPS.

  • Bigbaldmeany

    Stay single Lebron, don’t fall for it. Next thing you know she will be one of those b#tche$ on basketball wives talking about how she deserves this and that, here career, how she’s work so hard for what she has…….Don’t do it.

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