Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Sweetgreen Founders Jonathan Neman and Nate Ru Take Us Inside Their Bachelor Pad

The Washington, D.C.-based salad chain made quite a stir with its debut New York City location last year. Known for mixing sustainable materials and a hefty dose of clean design into their storefronts, it's not surprising that their D.C. abode reflect the same standards of style and substance.
Founded in 2007 by Georgetown students Nate Ru, Jonathan Neman, and Nick Jammet, Sweetgreen set itself apart from the fast casual dining pack by offering more than just thrown-together salads. The trio smartly catered to customers seeking a healthy lifestyle and folded that experience into their love of good design, utilizing sustainable construction methods like reclaimed wood, and great music. In 2010 they even branched out with the Sweetlife Festival, an annual concert with performers ranging from The Strokes, Avicii, and Kendrick Lamar.

Last year they made Sweetgreen made it's Manhattan debut with a restaurant in the rapidly-growing NoMad neighborhood, and its open design and fresh food was literaly and figuratively eaten up by New Yorkers in no time. All this recent growth means little downtime for its founders but when Jonathan Neman and Nate Ru get a good night's sleep it's at the spacious home they share just off D.C.'s U Street corridor, a late night hotspot that's home to lauded music venues like U Street Music Hall and neighborhood institutions like Ben's Chili Bowl. So we asked them to give us a tour of their pad so we could see how sweet it really is.
"We’re big nerds so we don’t have a TV, but we love board games. Some of our favorites are backgammon, Scrabble, and most recently we’ve been playing a lot of Settlers of Catan." — Nate Ru 

"The Gibson SG coincidentally is a type of guitar that Gibson makes, but it's also the abbreviation for Sweetgreen. We got Phoenix to sign this one. Every year we get a guitar, have an artist sign it, do some sort of social media contest, and give it to a fan. When we did it with The Strokes in 2011 and it was time to give it away, we got kinda bummed. We were like: 'Shit, we really want to keep this. This is really cool!' But you know, good karma. We gave it to the fan, but going forward we got two guitars and kept one for ourselves." — Jonathan Neman
"Wood has always been a very natural, clean element we like to use with everything, so we thought it would be cool to make passes for the Sweetlife Festival. Usually you see these like little vinyl passes, so people love them—especially the artists. They're all made from reclaimed wood. What we do is find old barns nearby, so here it’s like in Virginia and we use them in the restaurants, and the passes. We used to make tables out of old bowling lanes. At the New York restaurant, we made tables out of old railroad tracks." — Jonathan Neman
"I have at least 11 leather jackets, it just feels like a second skin. Two of my favorites are BLK DNM and Schott. I call it my 'LJ' collection." — Jonathan Neman
"I'm always kind of living out of a suitcase so I wear the same things every day. I have three pairs of jeans, Acne and A.P.C. I'm an investor in MeUndies, but they're really comfortable. I mix it up with shirts from Our Legacy and Rag and Bone." — Jonathan Neman
"When we moved here I begged my mom for a Persian carpet. My father's from Iran and this one was at my grandmother's house forever. They shipped it over. When we knew Kendrick Lamar was going to play at the Sweetlife Festival, we made these 'Beets Don't Kale My Vibe' T-shirts. He wore it again at the BET Awards." — Jonathan Neman 
"We worked with NIke to just do some Lunar Flyknit IDs similar to these for our store directors. We did 75 shoes and we're giving them out at our holiday party. It’ll be pretty funny, we’re getting a magician to come. What we’re going to do is give everybody these smaller necklaces as a decoy and then at the end of the holiday party a magician is going to come reveal a big thing and all these boxes of Nikes are going to appear." — Nate Ru
"Jon and I didn’t know each other before we went to Georgetown. We actually met in accounting class. After we graduated we were looking for a place. We love this neighborhood because we love 9:30 Club and U street. We were brought it to speak in our old entreprenurial professor's class and he told us he was leasing this house that had been his bachelor pad. So we came over and he made us a good deal, and it’s funny because he was one of the biggest inspirations for the business." — Nate Ru
"Olivia Wolfe was the first creative director of Sweetgreen. In the beginning it was me, Jon, Nick, and Olivia, who helped us with a lot of the design, logos, and branding. I attribute a lot of what we’ve done to her. This is actually spelled out with old drug bags she found on the ground. She was inspired by New York City and she made this print and she turned it into skateboards. Now she runs a shop called American Two Shot." — Nate Ru
"I love any type of puzzle or game. I tore my ACL right when we started the business in 2007. My sister had this Rubik's Cube and I was just determined to figure it out, and I spent 2 or 3 weeks figuring it out. Since then I’ve been kind of obsessed. It’s kind of like a stress reliever for me. This one is the original one I had from back in the day—you can tell because it’s been faded by the sun, and this one I got recently." — Nate Ru
"Nathan Road is on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong, which is kind of like its Brooklyn. It's actually the street I’m named after. It’s the street with all the aftermarket electronics and interesting, small shops. It’s one of my dad’s favorite streets in Hong Kong, so he thought it was a good name for me." — Nate Ru
"I’m a big fan of Vans and Converse, but I love the Flyknits. I have mostly West Coast-inspired shoes, but I like to keep it simple." — Nate Ru
"We try to do yoga at least twice a week depending on travel schedules. Jon and I live together and [co-founder] Nick [Jammet] lives across the street. So we wake up, get out of bed, and normally go to Nick’s house. It’s funny because we work together, we hang out together and then we do yoga together." — Nate Ru
Fix Bike

"This is our 'DJ booth' and these are some of our favorite records. Our most played song is Edith Piaf's 'La Vie En Rose,' it's good for a dinner party. We try to do one at least once or twice a month on Sunday, we’ll have some people over and just like break bread and have a good time. The crates once held produce. What’s cool is that's kind of a literal interpretation of Sweetgreen—you know, it’s like the local food plus music in one package.
"We actually moved into this house and ruined the floors pretty quickly. So we had the same guy that builds our stores in D.C. replace the floors with sustainable wood from old barns in Virginia." Fixed
"This checkerboard painting is by my sister Chelsea. She’s the owner of Tappan Collective, which is an art website that connects emerging artists with new collectors. Next to it are pieces by my mom, Sherry Neman. These are good, but her newer pieces are really incredible. This one on the right is one of her early pieces. I see the Buddha in there somewhere, I don't know if anyone else does."

Skier Julia Mancuso: The Odds Are Ever in Her Favor 2014

The Olympic alpine skier takes her three medals to the slopes of Sochi 2014. Her secret to success? Lucky underwear
Pro tip: Don't ask Julia Mancuso how she won. “It is not a shock to me when I have a good race,” the 29-year-old alpine skier says. “I started to tell people I'd just worn my lucky underwear.” And then, in 2010, she actually designed an underwear line, Kiss My Tiara, so there's truth to the snark. Lucky underwear alone, though, can't account for Mancuso's Olympic gold medal (in the giant slalom at Turin in 2006) or her two silvers (in Vancouver in 2010). Or, for that matter, the strong odds that she'll medal again this year in Sochi 2014.

And, sure: That competitiveness with Lindsey Vonn (Tiger's lady friend!), who beat her to the gold by half a second last time, might make her push a little harder this time. But Mancuso's an equal-opportunity rival. “I'm racing against all sixty people out there,” she says. For the record, we know who we're betting on this time around.
Slip Catsuit by Norma Kamali. Red Jacket by Carmen Marc Valo In the Maximilian Fur Salon at Select Bloomingdale's. Shoes by Christian Louboutin.

Our 8 Favorite Sochi 2014 Olympics Crushes

In the most intensely scrutinized, Internet-y Olympics ever, the female athletes of these Olympics aren't just a bunch of pretty faces: They're also expressive, GIF-able faces. And dancers. And good old-fashioned Olympic ass-kickers. Here are our faves through the week of competition thus far.
Ashley Wagner
From her sultry, bravado-filled performances, to her insta-meme "Bullshit" moment after a disappointing score in the women's short program, Wagner is running away with the McKayla Maroney award for the Internet's favorite Olympian. Girl's got more flair than a Chotchkie's employee of the month.
Julia Mancuso
The lucky underwear paid off: The alpine skier won bronze in her third Olympics, making her the most decorated American female alpine skier ever. Julia 4, Lindsay Vonn 2. Sure they're not keeping score, though.
Jackie Chamoun
We're not opposed to a sexy photo shoot or eighty here at GQ, but Chamoun's is less notable for the shoot itself than what happened after: After a behind-the-scenes video showed more risque angles of her topless body than the tastefully obscured originals, the conservative Lebanese government denounced the whole thing, even calling for an IOC investigation just days before the game. The reaction online was predictably swift and endearingly unanimous, with many taking part in a #StripforJackie campaign, calling out Lebanon for such puritan moralizing in the face of violence and conflict at home.

Here's hoping Jackie goes on to put in a solid showing in Sochi2014 — there'd be no hubbub, after all, if she weren't a world-class athlete, there simply to do her job.
Erin Hamlin
They say that in luge, the real winner is whoever finishes first behind the Germans—and in that case, Erin Hamlin's the champion of the Olympics so far. Her bronze in singles luge was the first medal for an American, man or woman, in the event. Well deserved, since she's been training for quite a while.
Jamie Anderson
She won gold in women's slopestyle, and might've also met a cutie or two; the American snowboarder told Us Weekly that the level of Tinder use in the Olympic Village is "next level," and that she had to delete her account to focus on the competition. Now, if you'll excuse us, we're going to go work out. Maybe get some snowboarding in?
Kate Hansen
The American luger is just the latest athlete to capture the world's attention with an endearing pregame warm-up, a pop-and-lock dance routine that's only objectionable if you are absolutely no fun at all. So like with Anastasia Ashley and Michelle Jenneke before her, we're totally behind this.
Dominique Gisin and Tina Maze
The Swiss and Slovenian skiers raced to just a rare tie (or close enough, anyway) in the women's downhill, covering just under two miles of mountain in 1 minute and 41.57 seconds. Where did that extra gold medal come from, anyway? Easy: Sochi organizers are prepared with forty-six extras.

Citizen Kate. Kate Mara is hot

BREAKING: Kate Mara is hot. Okay, that’s not news to anyone who watched her chew up the screen (and Kevin Spacey) as a back-channeling, sex-favor-trading blogger on House of Cards, back this month on Netflix

Februaries are big for Kate Mara. Take last year: On an unassuming weekend in the dark heart of winter, Netflix dropped the first season of House of Cards introducing viewers to Zoe Barnes, the slickly ambitious reporter who represents the third point of Congressman Francis Underwood’s vindictive triangle offense. (The second: Underwood’s wife, played by Robin Wright.) Keeping up with Wright and Kevin Spacey is big work, and yet, not a half hour into the first episode, Zoe kisses off a date who wants an invite upstairs:  “Oh…you’re so sweet.… But if I was going to fuck you, you’d know.” The sting of that slap lasts for a season.

Mara is tall enough to ride roller coasters, but barely. She’s acted way longer than younger sister Rooney, but doesn’t seem overly impressed with either of their ascents.  She seems to consider HoC not some zenith but another hilltop in a steady career that includes Brokeback Mountain and 127 Hours. As for that run of very excellent Februaries? It dates back nine seasons, not just two. Mara is NFL royalty: Mom’s family runs the Steelers; Dad’s family runs the Giants. That’s five Super Bowl Sundays since 2006. “We dressed up for Giants games like we were dressing up for church,” she says. “It’s our family business.” What about the less-than-stellar seasons both teams just had? “It was bound to happen. It’s been too amazing. Of course losing sucked.”

Just before Christmas, she picked a spot to meet near her gym in Silver Lake. She wore a black leather moto jacket over a Giants workout tee. After she ordered a smoothie with apple, kale, and lemon, a waiter tried to convince her that lemon would suck with apple and kale. “Well, it doesn’t. I mean, I get it every day. Don’t judge my smoothie.” The salt in her responses reminded me of someone else. Someone used to being called “Twitter twat.”

When do you give up on your teams?
I’m an eternal optimist.

What about when the Giants start 0-6?
Never. Besides, the Giants have a history of turning things around. Next year we could go to the Super Bowl. One of the greatest things about football is, unlike baseball, you really don’t know what’s going to happen at the start of the season.

Do you get home to New York much?
Yeah, my whole family’s still there. My dad’s mom is still very much in charge of the family. My dad’s one of eleven—I have about 50 first cousins on the Mara side.

What’s your grandma like in the owner’s box? Does she curse at players?
Oh, she would never curse. No, no, no. I mean, she’s tough. She’s a really tough lady. But she’s also very proper. So there’s no cursing.

Does the wine go a little faster in a tight fourth quarter?
I don’t think there’s any drinking involved.

No way.
I mean, if we win, or if we’ve lost, maybe people drink after the game, but, like, it’s funny, because obviously drinking is such a massive part of most people’s football-watching experience, but to me, it’s such a foreign thing. It was like going to the office. Everyone was supposed to look their best. Obviously as we got older, that kind of shifted, and now we can wear a Giants jersey. But that goes with the drinking—it just wasn’t something…

It’s business.

Sunday mornings with a one o’clock game… How early does the whip-cracking start to get everyone ready?
My mom’s always late and my dad’s always early. I’m like my dad. Obviously Tom Coughlin wasn’t our coach when I was kid, but now it’s called Coughlin Time. If you’re not there fifteen minutes early, you’re late. My dad’s ready an hour early sitting in the kitchen by the door, looking at the clock. I don’t blame him.

Do you try to get home in the fall?
During football season, I try to spend as much time in New York as possible. At first it was very strange not waking up on Sunday with my family. But then I was like, Oh, I can just get on a plane.

Some of my friends went to your high school, same time as your brother and sister. They call Rooney “Tricia.”
See, then they definitely did—they’re not lying.

When you’re with your sister, do you talk about acting or anything but acting?
Oh no, talking about acting isn’t like, “Ugh, God, we have to talk about acting, how boring!” It’s like a passion. It’s not, you know, some burden. Of course we do.

Speaking of acting: Does the new season of House of Cards turn up the dials?
I mean, the dials were really high in the first season. Beau Willimon has a very big imagination. And he and our writing staff, I think they really pulled through this season. Because it’s hard to top all the things that happened last season. Last year, before Season One came out, I had seen all the episodes; this year I haven’t, so I’m just as excited to watch it like anyone else. Still, I think it's just as surprising and addictive. Hopefully, we'll see.

Did you, like, drop in on Politico before you started filming?
I didn’t shadow anyone. Any questions I had I went to Beau. But being a journalist wasn’t the most important thing for me. That was just her job—it could be anything. The most important aspect of Zoe that I felt I needed to understand and wrap my head around was her crazy drive and ambition. Sitting around with Beau and Fincher and Kevin, just setting the backstories—that’s where I got all of my information.

When you shot Season 2, did you have to put everything else aside?
I mean, I’m sure Kevin has to, because he’s in almost every scene. But for everyone else, it’s very different. I don’t shoot every day. I actually shot Transcendence while I was shooting House of Cards. So I wasn’t even in Baltimore the whole time. I was in New Mexico.

With Johnny Depp.
We were shooting in the middle of the desert in the summer, in New Mexico, and it was 110 degrees. Outside all day in the sun and most of the guys playing the army guys were either ex-marines or had some sort of experience in the field. While I was there I read American Sniper and Lone Survivor back to back. Just because I felt so much in that world, even though our movie is not that.

Between House of Cards and Transcendence, you’re in a comfortable spot. Are you gonna move back to New York for good now?
I hope one day I’ll have a place there. But I really love being able to do both. I’m not one of those people who hates on L.A. I love it.

If you were not an actress, would you still be living in L.A.?
I don’t know how I would have come to L.A. if I wasn’t an actress.

Well, I mean, lots of people do. You couldn’t have ended up here doing something else?

You would’ve been somewhere else?
Maybe I would have visited L.A for some random reason, but the only reason I came here at nineteen was for work. And, you know, it took me a while to be happy here. So, no. I’m definitely an East Coast—I’m such a family, like, my family is so… The reason I love New York so much is because it’s where my family is. If my family was from here, then I’d probably be saying the same thing about L.A.

Sweater by T by Alexander Wang. Bikini by Eres. Heels by Alexander Wang. Oval ring by Arik Kastan at Roseark.
Blouse by Missoni. Bra by Eres. Skirt by Wayne from Barneys New York Beverly Hills.

Sweater by T by Alexander Wang. Bikini by Eres. Heels by Alexander Wang. Oval ring by Arik Kastan at Roseark.
Cardigan by Topshop. Bra and panties by Eres. Necklace by Bettina Javaheri at Roseark. Heels by Charlotte Olympia.
Sweater by T by Alexander Wang. Bikini by Eres. Heels by Alexander Wang. Oval ring by Arik Kastan at Roseark.

The GQ Cover Story: LeBron James

Welcome to the magical world of King James. It's nice, right? Always sunny. Palm trees. A pair of championships, working on a third. The Decision? That worked out just fine. And at the center of it all, always making and remaking his world exactly as he likes it: the most stylish empire-builder in sports. "This thing is about more than just basketball," he says. Sort of makes you wonder: What will the King conquer next?
After morning practice, after the media session, LeBron James went to the locker room and iced, then got pulled for a random piss test, so now he's late, which he does not like being. Also, he's tired. There's a chef here at the warehouse, where Tupac and Snoop and Jay Z keep the rhythm, and hot lights shine over racks of clothes and shoes to put on, which he loves—he loves this shit—fashion is his candy, just ask Randy, to whom he has handed his phone to take photos. He wants pictures of himself in the outfits, maybe to tweet, which he also loves. But he's tired, that's the thing. Sluggish. And so right in the middle of a sentence about chicken and hot sauce, which the chef just handed him, he switches gears, and his eyes pop wide, and his mouth goes rubbery, and, enunciating perfectly, he booms: You might be deep in this game, but you got the rules missin / Niggaz be actin like they savage, they out to get the cabbage / I got nuthin but love, for my niggaz livin lavish.

People seem used to it. None of his handlers give pause. But it does seem a little...dissociative.

Motherfuck the rest, two of the best from the west side / And I can make you famous / Niggaz been dyin for years, so how could they blame us?

He loves to sing. He refuses to have anything to do with coffee. Singing is his coffee. Rejuvenated, he dances in the outfits for the camera, clowns like he always did back in high school, gets every bored person here happy.

He would like to be an actor. A comedy actor. He's shooting his first movie, Ballers, with Kevin Hart. The other thing he would like is to play in the NFL. "Some days I want to be a singer. But my voice? Then the next day I want to be Picasso." He would like to be a billionaire. "If it happens. It's my biggest milestone. Obviously. I want to maximize my business. And if I happen to get it, if I happen to be a billion-dollar athlete, ho. Hip hip hooray! Oh, my God, I'm gonna be excited."

I'm tight grill when my situation ain't improvin / I'm tryin to murder everything movin.


He's ten years into this insane career. Probably ten more to go with the NBA, he figures. So it's about halftime. It's something to think about. "My drive to be the greatest basketball player ever is very high." Everything right now is fantastic. A Miami mansion, a beautiful wife and two sons. Cars. More money than any other American athlete besides Floyd Mayweather, God love him. Sportswriters are having orgasms: The King is going for a three-peat with the Miami Heat, he has won four of the past five NBA MVP awards, his right arm is as fast as a helicopter blade, and he could notch a triple-double every night if he wanted.

Controlled exceptionalism, the most gifted ever? The game seems so easy he's left challenging only his own efficiency. They say he's Michael Jordan for a new generation. Or maybe they'll say Michael Jordan was the LeBron James of his generation, same difference, history will not bother splitting hairs. "Dr. J couldn't do what he does. Magic couldn't do what he does," says Heat president Pat Riley.

Being excellent at absolutely everything like this, it carries responsibility. Off the court, on the court, it weighs on him. All those people wanting more points out of him. They pay to see a superhero, and the superhero should shoot the ball, create lanes into which he can explode into everlasting glory, like Baryshnikov performing consecutive grands jetès, like Pavarotti achieving nine effortless high C's in one aria. (Seventeen curtain calls for that one.) People who pay to see history being made expect history to be made.

"Like, I could average thirty-five points a game if I really wanted to," he says. He is beautifully handsome, solid and smooth as a sycamore. "But then—it wouldn't be me," he says. "So I don't know if I could do it, because of my instincts. I see a teammate open—even if I have a great shot—I see a teammate open for a better shot, I gotta feed him. It's like, my mind sometimes be like 'Shoot it,' but then—my instincts, you know?"

He is thoughtful. He is a man who chews on ideas this way and that, enjoys the texture. The battle between predisposition and will. It's something to think about. "This thing is about more than just basketball," he says. "I can play basketball with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back. The way my mind, my mind starts working, we could probably be here for like...it could be like midnight. Someone will have to turn my switch off."

One of the things that bothers him is when people say, "You've changed." First of all, he hasn't. He still has his instincts. He still has Akron sitting in him like a bag of cement.


"Winning is my drug," he says. "Winning is my ice cream. Like my kids. They want more. 'More! More!' They just want more."

Actually, no. Right now Bryce, who is 6, is staring down at a melting bowl of something beige in a shop minutes away from the family's mansion in Miami's Coconut Grove.

"Yo, what's the matter?" says James, six feet eight, 250 pounds collapsed into an itty-bitty ice-cream-parlor chair, motioning to his son, who is not complaining, who is sitting alone, silent, and not easy to notice amid the swirl: customers, cops, some of James's handlers, ice cream scoopers, a floor mopper, and his wife, Savannah, in yoga pants, a yellow tee, eating salad from a Tupperware container she brought, exercising mother power well-wrought. "I said now!" she barks at 9-year-old Bronny, who actually, technically, prefers later. The family is background. James is foreground. Everyone gets it. Daddy is working, tossing out quotes to one enraptured person or another, about this game and that game, to dunk or to pass, to stay in this city or go to that one (no, he has no answer about Miami), to sell a sneaker, a TV, a hamburger. Savannah is not the type to do some wife dance for the enraptured people. She will avoid making eye contact if she can get away with it. She's the serious one. He's the funny one, the charismatic, cool one. They got married last summer, having been together since high school in Akron, since way before he became King James.

"You don't like your ice cream?" James calls to his son.

Bryce looks down at the melt, up at his dad. Demoralizing. Hard to admit. A dud of a flavor choice. "I don't like it," he says.

"Go get something else!" James says. "Try something else. You ain't got no complaints!"

Fatherhood, he says, is a lot like sports. "Being a leader of my household, a leader of Miami, a leader of Team USA. It's the same exact thing. You can sense when a guy is frustrated—maybe doesn't feel involved enough in the offense. As leader you go over to him, you know, 'How can I help?' Because at the end of the day, we all have one common goal—and that's to be great."

Winning, being great, it's the whole point of life. Is it not? Is there any reason to tiptoe around that fact? Winning, James says, is what a team does, not a person. That notion sits at his core and explains everything. The tattoo across his back, huge, shoulder to shoulder, says chosen 1. It's not simply precocious. It's bigger than that. It's what happened back in Akron, an American allegory. A dirt-poor fatherless nobody alone in his bed at night, hoping for his mom to come home, which she didn't—for a couple of years.

All that, and now all this.

Basketball took hold. In his senior year of high school, averages of 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 3.4 steals per game. Averages. But the thing that really happened back then was a team. A family. You finally get one, you cling. All those guys. Sian, Willie, Dru on the Fighting Irish, of course, but also Maverick and Rich and Randy, all those guys who would come over his place in the projects, where his mom finally landed, $22 a month for a tiny apartment, and everyone wanted to hang there. Like a family reunion every single day, playing video games, goofing around. He says they came there because they loved his mom. They say it was because of him. "His charisma," says Randy Mims, who back then filled the role of big brother and is now his day-to-day manager. "Everyone wanted to be around him. He was born with it. He still has it. It's what fills arenas."

Next thing he's 17 years old, he's on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A Nike contract. First overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"I go from $10 in my pocket to $100 million. In high school. Yup."


So, second of all, regarding change, of course he's changed. "Good! That's like a good thing," he says. "I'm like, 'Thank you.' Shit. I'm 29 years old with a family—I'm married with a family. I—of course I've changed. The problem is, you haven't changed. And that's why you dislike what I do, you know."

He leans forward. He's not going to be interrupted on this point. "As an African-American, we hear it a lot where we grow up. You've changed." He's sick of hearing it used as a criticism. "Because you've tried to better yourself and because you've made it out. 'You're not the same person that we used to know.' Of course I'm not. I'm trying to better myself. Change is not a bad thing. Thinking that it's bad, you know, that's one thing I think is a downfall for African-Americans for sure."

When he was still with the Cavs, he got a tattoo on his right forearm: 330. The Akron area code.

One person he thanks for all his success is his father. Well, it's not actually a thanks. More of a conversation. "Like, 'Wow, Dad, you know what, I don't know you, I have no idea who you are, but because of you is part of the reason who I am today.' The fuel that I use—you not being there—it's part of the reason I grew up to become who I am. It's part of the reason why I want to be hands-on with my endeavors. And be able to put my guys that's with me now in position. Like Maverick Carter, my right-hand guy in my business. Rich Paul, my agent. Randy Mims, my friend—he's my manager, you know. So me in a position allowing people around me to grow, that maybe wouldn't have happened if I had two parents, two sisters, a dog, and a picket fence, you know?"

Change, of course, is exactly what turned James into basketball's most hated villain for a stretch. That story occupies an indelible chapter in pop-culture history. He left Cleveland in 2010 to go play for Miami. The Decision. Over 13 million people watching the big obnoxious reality show, which was, he'll remind you, to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. But still. Tone-deaf. The guys from Akron had a lot to learn about how to run a multimillion-dollar athlete's career. "Crazy," says Mims. "I don't think any of us had any idea we'd get the reaction we did. I think we were all in shock."

The hissy fit in Cleveland—and across the Midwest, and inside like-minded pockets of America nationwide—was not subtle. People in the streets set fire to LeBron James jerseys. They stabbed LeBron James dolls. Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers, threw gasoline on the flames. A "shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own," he told Cleveland in an open letter. A "shocking act of disloyalty.... The self-declared former 'King' will be taking the 'curse' with him down south....Sleep well, Cleveland."

Poop on him!

The reaction was so strong and childish, a lot of people eventually woke up and looked inward.


The Decision show was a flop. He gets that. But the decision itself was just a man having a growth spurt. "The best thing that ever happened to me," he says. "I needed it. It helped me grow as a man. As a professional, as a father. At the time, as a boyfriend. It helped me grow. Being confined, I spent my whole life in Akron, Ohio. For twenty-five years. Even though I played professionally in Cleveland, I still lived in Akron. Everything was comfortable. I knew everything, everybody knew me—everything was comfortable. I needed to become uncomfortable.

"Now I've seen everything on and off the floor this league has to offer," he says. "I got an answer for everything. Winning, losing, being a free agent, staying, leaving, media, media down on you, media big up on you, agents, money, parking it, family, money. All, everything. So whatever your question is, I can deliver."

Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel said in an interview that the thing he was most thankful for when getting crushed by the media was James texting him and giving him advice.

"Oh, seriously?" says James, flashing a grin. "He said that?"

What did he tell Manziel?

"My secret words."

How about Pacers swingman Paul George? That hand slap in Game 2 last year? The two were going at it, genius versus genius, George beating James with a hard dunk, James answering with a deep three-pointer. After the horn, James followed George, reached for him, said, "I got you back, young fella," and so they slapped hands, enemies fraternizing. Ever since the slap, George is having the season of his life, and now people act like James put magic Jesus oil on him.

"I'm very good at knowing talent, I guess," he says about his friendship with George. "I knew he could be really, really good. I had a couple of conversations with him. I just see talent in a guy.... I'd do it for anyone. But if someone reaches out to me for advice how to get better, I'm doing it. I can't tell what I said. My secret words."

He has a thing for greatness. "I'm always keepin' on other athletes. I love Tom Brady. I love the comparisons with him and Joe Montana. I love Floyd Mayweather—the comparisons with him and Muhammad Ali. 'Ooo, can Floyd Mayweather be the greatest of all time?' You know. Things like that. Sidney Crosby and the duel between him and Alex Ovechkin and who's the best, you know. Even to a point where, like, Kyle Korver just broke the three-point record for consecutive games. Like, ninety games straight, he's had a three-point. I was like, 'Wow, that's crazy.' You know, I don't even know that stuff about me until, actually, if I'm watching SportsCenter or reading social media. I had no idea that I've gone this long with scoring consecutive double-digit points until I see... I had no idea. I didn't know what number I was at. I was like, 'I don't know.' I was like, 'Oh, for real? I got 500 straight double-digit games?' Like, it's still in counting now, I'm up there with Kareem and Jordan. It's like, sheesh. I've done some pretty good things."

Around the time he won his second NBA championship with Miami in 2013, he got a tattoo high and bold across his right shoulder. akron, it says.

"Miley Cyrus? She has a great voice! She don't need the shenanigans. She can have some of the shenanigans, but not all of the shenanigans, you know? And she can be at peace! She can be at peace.



It's safe to say now, three years into life in Miami, that LeBron James's villain persona did not stick. He tops the league's list of best-selling jerseys. His sneakers crush the competition in stores, outselling Kobe, his nearest footwear rival, like six to one. The LeBron 11, for $200, has hyperposite construction—a combination of Foamposite material and performance synthetics—and a new layer of Lunarlon cushioning; and anyway, Nike generates about $300 million off the sneakers.

James did not go on a PR offensive to achieve redemption among the people who were burning the jerseys and stabbing the dolls. People thinking of him as some run-of-the-mill narcissistic asshole would give up, he figured. Keep doing what you do and people eventually figure out there is more to the story.

"The thing is, he hasn't changed," says billionaire Warren Buffett, his friend of six years. They eat hamburgers, go shopping in Omaha together. "He's a solid guy. Fame has not gone to his head. You have to give him credit. I would have been drunk with power. It says a lot about how his mind works."

His mind works by way of Akron. He hosted the whole Miami Heat team for Thanksgiving last year back in Akron. "I'm the biggest voice that my hometown has ever seen," James says. "I'm the biggest figure that my hometown has ever seen. I do know that. I can see that. The responsibility of being the inspiration and the light for my community—it's much greater than hitting a jump shot."

When he talks about his responsibility to his community, he doesn't go into charity-speak. Although there is plenty of that. He talks bigger. His responsibility, he says, is to the people in his community who get those words thrown at them: "You've changed." People in his own community accusing each other. "It's my responsibility to show them it's not a bad thing to be someone who's changed. Keep showing them what I'm doing. That what I'm doing is right. I'm not, obviously, I'm not no guru on life or guru on success or guru on, you know, huge topics in the world or in America. But I am an example. I'm an example that can be used."

When Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote the open letter to Cleveland rallying its people to feel betrayed, the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson decided to respond to it.

"He speaks as an owner of LeBron," he wrote, "and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave.... LeBron is not a child, nor is he bound to play on Gilbert's plantation and be demeaned."

It was shocking to people. To associate America's tragic past with modern sports. To make the link. To shine a light on the disproportionate ratio of black athletes to black professionals in ownership positions, or up atop any of the corporate ladders selling the swag. The conversation caught fire for a few days, then blew itself out. Uncomfortable. Buzzkill. One part of a much larger conversation that everyone keeps never having, that the artists hear, and sing songs about, making records that confound half of America trying to understand what's the matter with those people.

Jealousy is misery, suffering is grief / Better be prepared. When you cowards fuck with me / I bust and flee / These niggaz must be crazy—what??

By 2012, Dan Gilbert was well over his LeBron James-abandonment hissy fit. He opened Cleveland's first casino, with 1,900 slot machines and eighty-nine table games.


A customer comes up to him at the ice cream parlor. She can't stand it anymore. King James! She's curly, suburban. "Well—just, thank you," she says clumsily. "Thank you for everything."

"Um," he says. You'd think he'd have more prepared retorts. "Thank you for having me."

It's getting to be time to leave. He's got business back at home. Savannah has the kids over at a chalkboard on the wall, playing hangman, and now the puzzle is for Bryce. Remember he is 6, so this is difficult. "I know the answer!" James says, looking on. "I know it!" Savannah throws him wife eyes. Don't you even.

Savannah: "Give me a letter."

Bryce: "Um."

Savannah: "A letter. Three, two, one—"

Bryce: "M."

James: "M? No."

Savannah draws a noose around the head of the figure on the hangman puzzle.

James: "Draw him a neck. He gets a neck!"

Savannah: "We do the body, and then the arms and legs."

James: "A shirt and tie?"

Bronny: "A suit and tie."

Savannah: "Give me a letter."

Bryce: "D?"

James: "There it is! Yeah, there's a D!"

Savannah: "No, there's not."

James: "Oh, dang."

This goes on and on. Arms, legs, suit, tie, eyes, nose, hat. Little steps for the hanged man to have climbed to his own execution. Bryce has his finger on his lip, thinking. They need to leave. Go home. Important people waiting. Many other American families would have long since bailed. One letter finishes the puzzle: Bryce is coo_!

"C-O-O!" James is saying, his big body now on the edge of his ice-cream-parlor seat, like any fan in any arena late in the fourth. Buzzer time.

Savannah: "Give me a letter, Bryce."

James: "Bryce! It says 'Bryce is C-O-O_!' Coooooo! Coooooo!"

Savannah: "A letter—"

James: "Coooooooooo!"

Bryce: "L!"

"Nailed it!" James says, leaping to his feet. "Bryce is cool!" They high-five, spin, a family in an ice cream parlor, rejoicing.

The tattoo running down his right calf spells: Witness. And down his left: History.