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5 Steps of LeBron James’ Career Strategy: Will it work for You?

A New Employment Reality Comes to Professional Sports

Just as everyday people have had to adapt to changes in how they look for a job and accept the disappearance of job security, the owners of professional sports franchises, sports agents, and professional basketball coaches find themselves confronted by, among other things, a change in who does business in their world and how business is conducted.

Several years ago in July 2010, a new employment reality arrived on the doorstep of the National Basketball League (NBA) when LeBron James decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.  More recently, Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors sent the message in 2016 that the new employment reality is still around, and it isn’t going anywhere.


Undoubtedly, LeBron made a boatload of money in Cleveland, but he had reasonable, achievable career goals. He not only wanted to be a player on a championship team, he also wanted to win the NBA championship for multiple years.

Sure, LeBron left Cleveland (to play for Miami for less money) without bringing an NBA championship to that city, but he gave it seven seasons. Apparently, LeBron felt that moving to Miami would give him the best opportunity to achieve his career goals. He was right.

With back-to-back successes, the Miami Heat is the NBA’s 2013 and 2012 Championship Team. Career goals one and two … Done and Done! LeBron’s departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers is a template for how to manage a career.

  1. Set goals.
  2. Perform at the highest level.
  3. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time within which to achieve your goals, and factor in your talent and marketability.
  4. Consider whether it’s time to find an employment opportunity elsewhere that will enable you to achieve your goals.
  5. Relocate, if necessary.

Fast forward to the 2014-2015 NBA season and LeBron’s return to Cleveland. The vitriol and outrageous commentary that spewed forth when he departed were reminiscent of the language used by plantation owners in 19th century America. I, like others, would not have returned.

Fortunately for Cleveland, LeBron didn’t ask our advice. The Golden State Warriors’ on-the-court proficiency stopped LeBron and the Cavaliers in 2015, but 2016 was a different story. By leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2016 NBA Championship, LeBron has left an indelible legacy on the sport he loves.

I’m a huge LeBron fan, but even if you’re not, if you’re fair, you must admit that he has managed his career strategically and successfully. He now has three NBA Championships, the most recent of which helped elevate him to a status and level of respect few athletes attain. To the LeBron haters who refuse to agree: Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Given the NBA industry standard for success, (it don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got a ring), more and more NBA players, just as Kevin Durant did, are likely to exercise their option to play for a team positioned to win rather than remaining on a team that either hasn’t won or has a long-term building strategy. The Golden State Warriors is one such “positioned to win” team.

Thus, another lesson to be learned from LeBron’s career strategy is that timing is an important factor.  Now that Durant is a Golden State Warrior, it may be more difficult to best the talented, well-coached and well-managed Oakland, California team.

My advice: Develop a career plan, but be flexible and realistic given external factors beyond your control.

Don’t get it twisted: Don’t delude yourself about your talents and marketability. LeBron is a committed, very marketable superstar who puts in the work and time necessary to achieve his desired goal. Are you willing to do the same?



About the Author

multifaceted employment professional, author and lecturer