LeBron James' star just got bigger—by one round, rapping fellow mogul.
As reported in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine, the Cavaliers superstar has partnered with O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson and ABC for a one-hour drama based on James' experiences as a high school hoops phenom. The series, described as "Friday Night Lights-meets-Entourage," will follow an inner-city 15 year-old prep star who is transplanted to a small town school and forced to come of age while dealing with media pressure, unscrupulous moneymen and the jealousy of his peers.
The pilot script is expected in the coming weeks and, if the network approves, production on the pilot could begin in the spring for a fall '09 premiere. CubeVision and James's newly formed entertainment entity Spring Hill Productions will oversee for the network, while James and Cube will serve as co-creators and executive producers.
"It's a grounded character study of teenage life in small town America, but it's also an exploration of the American Dream and the wish-fulfillment aspect of what his life has become," said Matt Alvarez, President of CubeVision, who pitched the concept and is also an executive producer on the show. "As a teenager, LeBron was dubbed as one of the great ones. Dropping an album as a kid with NWA, Cube could relate to that. They both know what it's like to have success at a young age, and dealing with everything that comes with those expectations."
The series is just another development for James, entertainment mogul, and it comes on the heels of news that More than a Game, James' rookie outing as a producer, has been purchased by Lions Gate for theatrical distribution. That's expected to be released in the fall of '09, timed to the start of the NBA season and is positioned to vie for Oscar attention in the documentary category.
Also on the horizon for Spring Hill are several projects revolving around 60-year-old Sul Ross State (DIII) football player Mike Flynt—James' client at his LRMR management firm—including a two-book-deal with publisher Thomas Nelson. The Senior, the first entry from Flynt and co-author Don Yeager, was released in October with a foreword by James. Spring Hill and producers Gordon Gray and Mark Ciardi (The Rookie, Miracle and Invincible, among others) have also secured Flynt's life rights for a flick. Robert Eisele (The Great Debaters) is writing the drama with an estimated $30 million budget, and Tommy Lee Jones and Bruce Willis were among those being considered for the role of the linebacker-grandpa.
While James is a force in marketing, achievements in that field rarely equate to Hollywood success (see O'Neal, Shaquille). Gray and Ciardi, though, are Hollywood's pre-eminent sports flick producers.
James, for his part, isn't merely along for the ride; he's expected to have a hands-on creative role in all Spring Hill properties. And in partnering with the superstar, Hollywood decision-makers are betting on his bankability.
"Cube and I are huge basketball fans and LeBron James fans," Alvarez said. "Not only is he one of the best players in the league, but he's a great guy and he's been able to build one of the biggest brands in the world. When we had the opportunity to work with him, we jumped at it."
Sam Alipour is based in Los Angeles. His Media Blitz column appears in ESPN The Magazine and regularly on ESPN.com's Page 2. You can reach him at email@example.com.