New meaning to 'Just Do It!'

Updated: May 11, 2005, 6:55 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

Perhaps for the first time in his life, LeBron James has to hope that the Nike intern program has a fabulous business component.

In what must surely be the latest proof that internships aren't what they used to be, James is apparently geared to hire his high school friend and former teammate Maverick Carter to become his new business brain, dismissing the NBA's superagents du jour, Aaron and Eric Goodwin, in the process.

Carter is actually going to be part of a Team LeBron concept, although one hopes it works out better than the Team Bonds paradigm that the Giants left fielder has been laboring under these past months. I mean, it's hard enough trying to heal a knee and reconstruct a game without having to run a Web site, a financial empire and one's legal defense team at the same time.

James understands this, clearly, so he has decided to deal his money and endorsement issues off on someone he is sure he can trust.

In this way, he is at least a leg up on most boxers we know.

But contrary to what your parents always taught you, money is considerably thicker than blood, at least at these stakes. In other words, there's a lot more pressure in being a friend when you don't have to mind your pal's wallet.

We aren't sure just what convinced James to dismiss the brothers Goodwin, and speculation only leads to – well, lawyers, and who needs them crawling along the wainscoting?

We're just perched here in the corner, empties at our feet, trying to figure out what kind of crash courses Nike forces its entry-level volunteers to undergo to get this kind of gig right out of the chute.

James surely has faith in Carter, because he is testing their friendship in extraordinary ways. I mean, they could have gotten married and put their relationship to less stress.

I know if I was part of the James posse, I'd either have some biz degree watching my back, or I'd duck this offer as though it were dipped in pickled pudding.

After all, what's the up side? Making him more money? At this earning level, exactly what is more money? In a country full of people born on third base convinced they hit triples, James is the equivalent of the kid being born while being carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates. He has worked hard and long to sharpen his skills, no question, but it is equally true that God kissed him full on the lips when it came time for the distribution of his athletic and product-pitching gifts.

In other words, there's lots more money where this came from, to the point that the sky's the limit.

He's the fourth-highest paid athlete/endorser in the world, for God's sake. He could build six exact replicas of his high school out of the petty cash drawer. The man is deeply and profoundly well to do.

But all that money still requires business smarts. One has to be careful not to suddenly invest in Iraqi sand futures or timeshares in Cleveland. And if you don't know what you're doing, or if you do and guess wrong, well, guess who doesn't get invited to the Christmas party anymore? Guess who doesn't get to hang on the inside anymore?

Guess who goes back to Akron?

Specu-guessing is that there may be a place in the new Team LeBron for his surrogate father, Eddie Jackson, who will be released from prison to a halfway house, perhaps in Akron on a work-release program after doing three years for mortgage and mail fraud.

That, though, remains to be seen, as does the execution of expected endorsement deals with McDonald's, a car company and a financial institution. That, along with his Nike, Cadbury and Coca-Cola deals, puts a lot of hot pokers, pointy-side out, in front of Carter, and even with help from others in the business world (Russell Simmons, perhaps, or Jay-Z, who owns a piece of the New Jersey/Brooklyn/Ratnerville Nets), Carter's world is about to get a whole lot more complicated, no matter how smart and loyal he is.

So congratulations to you, Maverick Carter, and make sure you wear that Kevlar helmet. Your brain power has taken on a huge new set of risks, without a net, and with the risk of losing your best friend.

Do well. Never err. Make the endorsers love your guy. Make the hard choices so he doesn't have to. If something seems too good to be true, it absolutely, positively always is. Report everything to the IRS, no matter what anyone tells you. When in doubt, over-tip. Don't buy anything for yourself that is better than anything the client owns. If you're not sure who owns that quarter you found in the couch cushion in the lobby, pick it up and deposit it in LeBron's account. Nobody ever got fired balancing the books in favor of the client.

Oh, and never let the client get caught wearing Skechers. Remember, it only takes one slip-up to screw generations of interns – even fast-tracked ones.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com