Using His Powers for Good
July 9th, 2010

Last night LeBron James revealed, to much fanfare, that he would join the Miami Heat come next season.  And while his professional endeavors were the focus of the one-hour announcement event, it was his philanthropic endeavors that spoke most loudly to me.

Highly paid athletes and celebrities have used their public platforms for innumerable reasons over time.  Getting into exclusive clubs.  Getting lighter prison sentences.  Getting astronomical endorsement deals.  Selling newborn photos of their children to gossip magazines.  You name it.  But in the lead-up to last night LeBron identified an opportunity and seized it.  Knowing full well that he would have America’s undivided attention he requested that sponsorship of the announcement be sold, and that the proceeds should go to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

When we discussed this decision over dinner with friends the other night GAP was quick to dismiss the significance of this charitable maneuver.  He didn’t think it was that big a deal.  Collectively we countered.  The line of questioning went something like this:  “What if more celebrities did things like this?  What if it became a trend?  What could this do for charity if celebs across the board started using moments like this to benefit others who really need it, instead of just themselves?”  GAP eventually crossed over to our side, but given his lack of celebrity I need our powers of persuasion to reach a bit further.

There is a growing trend among the super-rich of pledging to donate half of their net worth to charity.  (Warren Buffet has famously pledged 99% of his wealth.)  Odd corporate sponsorship proceeds here and there may not tally into the billions as these private pledges do, but it’s more than a drop in the bucket.

I say kudos to LeBron James for harnessing the media for the benefit of someone else.  Would that other celebs would follow in his footsteps.

4 Responses to “Using His Powers for Good”

  1. Laura H. Says:

    As an estate planning attorney who has some ultra wealthy clients, but no celebs per se, the wealthy quite often remembers their favorite charities at death with bequests, or even with the whole of their estates.
    What shocks me most is that all of us middle classers do nothing in our estate plans. We provide for our surviving spouse and our children, or maybe an aging parent or a sibling, but most middle class and upper middle class people do not make a charitable gift at death. Why does this shock me? During life most of us are making charitable contributions. We pull out our checkbooks at church; we attend charity auctions and trivia nights; we send donations to charities that have helped us, family or friends, either directly like hospice or indirectly through medical research; we participate in the Race for the Cure. If part of our life is giving to charity, then why wouldn’t we all make charitable gifts on a similar level at death?
    I completely agree with you that celebrities could make (and some already do) a huge difference. I was just watching an old Oprah that was on my DVR and Will I Am paid off the mortgages for 2 families who were near losing their homes in foreclosure, and I was thinking, “I wonder how many mortgages Oprah could pay off?!” (I am not saying she doesn’t already do a lot…but my random pondering was along the same vein of your more thought-out post above.) But I will go a step further and put out there that if the middle class remembered their favorite charities in their estate plans in the same way and at the same modest level they support those charities in life, that trend would benefit charities to a much greater extent than the trend you are proposing among celebrities. Well, minus Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates – who probably can give more than the whole middle class put together!
    My 2 cents to your 10 dollars! :)

  2. Bridget Says:

    Until reading your article this morning I had no idea he donated the ad proceeds to The Boys and Girls Clubs of America. I’m relieved to know that there is a part of this manufactured media circus that went to a good cause. I agree that many celebrities have the power to make a real difference in people’s lives. I do imagine, however, that being in their position it is hard to discern the worthy causes from the opportunists that want a free ride.

  3. Anne Says:

    Good for him…I had no idea. I get a little fired up when I see the salaries of star athletes, actors, etc, but at least in his case the salary is going towards something good.

  4. rebecca @ altared spaces Says:

    I am with you and wish that it would become as stylish to help out a cause as to wear expensive sneakers or a diamond necklace.

    When “doing good” becomes the fashionable way to spend money fewer celebrities will feel the need to adorn themselves and will take their money and buy so good karma.