LeBron James already had a case as the greatest basketball player of all time when he joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018, but that hasn’t stopped him from padding his resume with some of the best basketball of his career over the past six years. Last season, he broke the NBA’s all-time scoring record. He has averaged 27.3 points per game as a Laker, higher than his figures with the Miami Heat (26.9) or Cleveland Cavaliers (27.2). In 2020, he won his fourth NBA championship, bringing the Lakers into a 17-17 all-time tie with their eternal rivals, the Boston Celtics. He’s been so good that you could almost forgot that when he moved to Los Angeles, one of the narratives surrounding that decision was that James made it largely to facilitate a future career in Hollywood.
Well… you might have forgotten… but James certainly hasn’t. On Saturday, he posted a screenshot of his statistics in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Instagram with the caption “But I just came here to make movies though! Ain’t that what y’all said right!?!?” After Sunday’s win over the Houston Rockets, James addressed the post by saying “sometimes you need to remind people. So that’s what it was.”
James has certainly lived up to his end of the basketball bargain in Los Angeles, but that doesn’t mean he’s ignored his filmmaking ambitions either. So in light of the narrative that James himself resuscitated, it’s worth asking: has LeBron’s Hollywood output changed since he physically moved to Los Angeles? The answer is yes and no, but mostly no.
Let’s start with the obvious. Despite living in the filmmaking capital of the world, James really hasn’t been featured in more projects as an actor. His IMDB page lists 27 credits as an actor. We’re immediately going to cut out seven of them for being ads or listings that directly stemmed from his basketball duties. That leaves us with 20 projects. Here’s how they fall in terms of time:
- James has appeared in seven scripted TV shows. All seven came before he joined the Lakers. They were appearances on The Simpsons, Entourage, Spongebob SquarePants, The Cleveland Show, The LeBrons, Survivor’s Remorse and Teen Titans Go!
- James has appeared in four music videos. Three of them came before he joined the Lakers: D.O.A – Death of Auto-Tune by Jay-Z, Forever by Drake, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Eminem and Jungle (The Game Before the Game) by X Ambassadors & Jamie N Commons. He appeared in a fourth music video, Champions by NLE Choppa, in 2023, after he’d joined the Lakers.
- James has appeared in four shorts. Two of them, Breath and My Time is Now, came before he joined the Lakers. The other two, Never Too Far Down and The Bunny & The GOAT, came after he joined the Lakers.
- James has appeared in four feature films. One of them, which remains his best-received acting performance, was in Trainwreck, which was made entirely before James joined the Lakers. The next was a voice-acting performance in Smallfoot. The movie came out in September, 2018, which is technically after James joined the Lakers, but remember, movies take years to make. James almost certainly recorded his lines while he was still a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The other two movies, Space Jam: A New Legacy and House Party, were made after James joined the Lakers.
- James appeared in WWE Sunday Night Heat, a wrestling event, in 2003, as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If the idea was that James was going to eschew his basketball career in the name of acting, all of this suggests that notion was far off. Since becoming a Laker, James has filmed two movies, appeared in two shorts and been in one music vide. That’s it. Hardly the resume of a player who just moved to Los Angeles to make movies. There’s no significant difference between James’ acting career before and after he relocated to California.
But there is a meaningful difference in his producing career. James has 58 producer credits on IMDB with six more coming for unreleased projects. Only 17 of those projects were released in 2018 or earlier, suggesting that James has become a far more prolific film producer since he signed with the Lakers. James and business partner Maverick Carter first launched their production company, SpringHill Entertainment, in 2007, but didn’t unite it with his other ventures, the Robot Company and Uninterrupted, until 2020. Since then, the new SpringHill Company has been involved in quite a few projects and has signed deals with Disney and Universal.
This of course begs the question: how involved is James as a movie producer? The answer is… we have no idea. In all likelihood, it varies from project to project. He has a whole company to perform the day-to-day tasks of producing these projects, so he likely isn’t meddling in minor details. But James is notoriously hands on with his business ventures. It would be naive to assume he leaves operations entirely in the hands of others, especially on projects related to sports in which he can lend his expertise.
Still, we can be realistic about this. James is, without any question, the greatest 21st-year basketball player in NBA history. A year ago, he was the greatest 20th-year basketball player the league has ever seen, and that title likely extends back to all or most of his Lakers tenure. That isn’t an accident. James is among the hardest-working athletes in the world. He obviously has no shortage of off-court ventures, but the amount of work that must go into maintaining his level of performance with his 39th birthday approaching likely doesn’t leave too much time for movie-making.
Even if it did, geography probably wouldn’t be much of a deterrent no matter where he plays. After all, the bulk of his free time is concentrated in the offseason, when he isn’t bound to any specific city. James could still be playing in Cleveland and making movies every summer if he wanted to. It’s not as though moviemaking is an endeavor limited to Los Angeles-based athletes, either. The last major project to star NBA players, for example, was the Netflix film Hustle. The two most prominent roles that went to basketball players were played by Juancho Hernangomez, who has never played for the Lakers or Clippers, and Anthony Edwards, who has played exclusively for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
So ultimately, James is right. His acting output hasn’t increased since he moved out west, and there’s just no reason to believe being in Los Angeles was ever a necessity for any ambitions he might hold on the silver screen.