LeBron fires agents, possibly in favor of friend

They hammered out the details for a landmark, $90 million deal with Nike. They leveraged another $12 million from Coca-Cola. And a collection of other deals totaled millions more.

But Aaron and Eric Goodwin couldn't keep their biggest deal from falling apart, as the NBA's biggest power brokers have lost the NBA's biggest star.

LeBron James fired the Goodwin brothers as his agent representatives Monday, severing his relationship with the team responsible for structuring more than $120 million in endorsement deals before he ever stepped foot on an NBA court.

It is expected that Maverick Carter, James' close friend and a former high school teammate, will be part of a team that will take over deal-making responsibilities for the Cleveland Cavaliers' rising star, who ranks as the fourth-highest-paid athlete endorser in the world. Only golfer Tiger Woods ($90 million per year), Formula One driver Michael Schumacher ($50 million) and soccer star David Beckham ($35 million) are paid more off the playing field.

"I'm stunned by everything that is happening," Aaron Goodwin said. "We did everything for LeBron to help mold him off the court and become the next big icon in sports. If what we did over the past two years led him to believe that he no longer needs an agent, then I guess we didn't do too badly."

The defection might be the most high-profile breakup of an agent and an NBA player since Shaquille O'Neal and agent Leonard Armato parted ways in 2001, said Kenneth Shropshire, author of "The Business of Sports Agents."

Carter, who has been a close friend of James' since their high school days, has served as a consultant with Nike for the past two years. Reached Tuesday on his cell phone, Carter said he wanted to reserve comment until a later time. Nike officials did not return calls seeking comment.

James informed the NBA Players Association that he has terminated his relationship with the Goodwins. They will continue to receive their commission on the deals they've already negotiated. NBPA spokesman Dan Wasserman confirmed Tuesday that the union had received the termination letter from James, who must wait at least 15 days before he is able to hire new representation.

It is believed Carter and James' road manager, Randy Mims, will be part of a group that will pursue future business transactions for James.

Carter is not currently registered as an agent with the NBPA, but that won't stop him from representing James on marketing deals that do not need certification by the union. James, who turned 20 this past season, has two more years on his four-year rookie contract. After winning the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, James improved almost every key statistic in his sophomore season, including points (averaging 27.2, up from 20.9), rebounds (7.4 vs. 5.5) and assists (7.2 vs. 5.9).

"LeBron as the immediate phenom was a benefit to both Aaron and LeBron," said Sonny Vaccaro, a veteran shoe company executive familiar with negotiations with James' agents. "What is happening now is just a sign of our times, because everyone wants to be with and grow a company or business with their own people. This was the natural offshoot. It's not like this is an illegitimate group that is raiding the coffers."

Carter is "the ultimate young people person," Vaccaro said, and he will be afforded ample time to learn the ropes of the business since most of James' endorsement deals are done.

Hours before the 2003 NBA draft lottery, the Goodwins negotiated a seven-year, $90 million Nike contract for James. The deal is worth $10 million per year more than what Nike agreed to pay Carmelo Anthony, the No. 3 pick in the draft.

Aaron Goodwin said there was "no indication from LeBron that he was unhappy."

Def Jam Recordings could become involved with James, according to the Akron Beacon-Journal. Hip-hop icon Russell Simmons developed the label and sold it for a reported $100 million in 1999, but he recently announced his return to Def Jam after developing Phat Farm, an urban clothing line worth $500 million.

Def Jam does not represent athletes but does have several high-profile artists, including Ludacris, LL Cool J and Ashanti. Def Jam president Jay-Z is part owner of the New Jersey Nets. It is not known whether Jay-Z's role in the organization would be considered a conflict of interest given his ownership position.

What makes things more interesting is that Eddie Jackson, James' surrogate father, is expected to be transferred Tuesday from federal prison in Loretto, Pa., to a halfway house, possibly in Akron, Ohio, where he would be allowed to serve in a work-release program. He is scheduled for release Aug. 27 after serving a three-year sentence for mortgage and mail fraud.

In addition to the Nike and Coca-Cola deals, the Goodwins negotiated a memorabilia deal with Upper Deck and a chewing-gum deal with Cadbury Adams for Bubblicious. In the Coca-Cola deal, which has four years remaining on it, James has appeared in Sprite and Powerade commercials as well as on the packaging. He was due an undisclosed bonus if Powerade's market share increased, which it did by 3 percent.

James has a few more endorsement categories to fill. He's nearing a deal with McDonald's but has yet to sign a deal with a financial institution or a car company. Many in the sports-marketing world believe his value in the car market might be compromised by the much-publicized purchase of a Hummer during his senior year in high school. Endorsing any other car could be looked upon as a disingenuous move.

The Goodwins still represent last year's No. 1 pick, Orlando Magic forward Dwight Howard, as well as Boston Celtics guard Gary Payton, New York Knicks guard Jamal Crawford, and Portland Trail Blazers forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim and guard Damon Stoudamire. The Goodwins also are representing University of Washington junior guard Nate Robinson, who is expected to be a late first- or early second-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com