The Lebrons Cartoon
(NY Times) – What does LeBron James dream about, other than sliding that first National Basketball Association championship ring onto his finger and perhaps riding in luxury automobiles with more generous leg room? How about donning a different kind of uniform and becoming a superhero?
Mr. James working on â€œThe Lebrons,â€ an online animated show.
â€œI think everybody, even grown-ups now, today all wish they could be a superhero,â€ Mr. James, the Miami Heat forward and six-time N.B.A. All-Star, said in a recent telephone interview. â€œI definitely had that imagination of, like, wow, it would be great to look over a city and take down the bad guys. Absolutely, I had those visions.â€
In his latest venture, Mr. James won’t be fighting crime Batman-style (even if he could probably afford it), but he still hopes to bring inspiration to his young fans. He is taking his talents to the Internet in a new Web-based animated series that will revisit some of his best-known off-the-court performances while featuring socially conscious messages.
The cartoon series, called â€œThe LeBronsâ€ and planned for a spring debut on its own YouTube channel and Mr. James’s Web site, lebronjames.com, will revive the characters from a popular series of Nike commercials in which Mr. James played four versions of himself: the youthful and wide-eyed Kid LeBron; the physically adept Athlete LeBron; the smooth and savvy Business LeBron; and an ornery elder statesman called Wise LeBron.
â€œI’m mostly a kid at heart,â€ Mr. James said of these manifestations, â€œand I’m the athlete, of course, that everyone sees. But I also have a business side, a cool side, and I love antique stuff and classical music. I guess that’s the old man side of me.â€
â€œThe LeBrons,â€ whose first season will consist of 10 episodes of five to six minutes each, will center on the world of 16-year-old Kid LeBron and his life in Akron, Ohio, using authentic locations from that city, where Mr. James was born and raised.
Like a latter-day â€œFat Albert and the Cosby Kids,â€ each episode will convey a message â€” the value of staying in school, staying off drugs or sticking by your family â€” while its character design and wry sensibility owe an inspirational debt to â€œThe Boondocks,â€ the satirical comic strip and television series created by Aaron McGruder.
â€œ â€˜The Boondocks’ is very edgy,â€ Mr. James said, â€œbut it has some great points, too, and if you can extract yourself from how edgy it is, you can find that point and you can use it.â€
Behind the scenes, â€œThe LeBronsâ€ will be produced by Mr. James’s production company, Spring Hill Productions, and Believe Entertainment Group. That company’s founders, Dan Goodman and Bill Masterson, have helped other entertainment figures translate their online popularity into digital shows, including â€œSeth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy,â€ a series of online shorts from Mr. MacFarlane, the â€œFamily Guyâ€ creator and star.
â€œThere’s a lot of folks out there that have great ideas,â€ Mr. Masterson said, describing how his company finds its creative partners, â€œbut how those ideas can come together with their audience â€” is there an audience that marketers and advertisers really care about? â€” play a role in how we decide to move forward.â€
Mr. James obviously brings a big dose of celebrity to anything he takes part in. But it is his persistent presence on social networks like Twitter and Facebook that has helped cultivate millions of online fans, and that, Mr. Goodman and Mr. Masterson said, will help make â€œThe LeBronsâ€ attractive to the Web-based sponsorships it needs. The series already has sponsors in Hewlett-Packard and Intel, and some proceeds from the show will be used to buy their computers for Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
The other challenge for â€œThe LeBronsâ€ is simply finding the time to work with Mr. James, who will also provide the voice of the Business LeBron character and appear in live-action segments in the series.
â€œWe figure out how to find time,â€ Mr. Goodman said. â€œWe’ve been on set at Nike shoots, we’ve been in Miami multiple times, we’ve been to away games. Wherever we can accommodate the schedule, we make time for him.â€
On those rare occasions during the N.B.A. season when Mr. James has downtime, he can often be found watching cartoons, whether he is sharing an episode of â€œSpongeBob Squarepantsâ€ or â€œBen 10â€ with his children or treating himself to an animated adventure of Batman, a favorite character.
Asked to name his all-time favorite cartoon, Mr. James cast his vote for â€œTom and Jerry,â€ an animated series that embodies his competitive spirit as well as a lead character who shares his winning ways, if not his physical proportions.
â€œI kind of always rooted for Jerry, man,â€ Mr. James said. â€œEven though Tom was the underdog, Jerry was much smaller.â€
— By Dave Itzkoff for The New York Times