LeBron James is arguably the first iconic celebrity athlete since Muhammad Ali to use his superstar status to shine a light on American injustice and empower black people to lead successful lives. So it's an honor to know the NBA's best player is staking his name as a Hollywood player with the docuseries Warriors of Liberty City. The first episode will debut at the music and film festival South by Southwest March 12, and Starz has picked up the first season.
James and best friend and business partner Maverick Carter are producing the show through their company, Springhill Entertainment. They bought into the vision created by Evan Rosenfeld, the young Miami filmmaker who understands what I am trying to accomplish through my involvement in youth sports and the Liberty City Optimist Club. We became friends while he was working as a producer for the 30 for 30 documentary The U and have collaborated on a couple of film projects.
In 2012, Rosenfeld, along with producer Lucas Leyva and artist Jillian Mayer, produced a short movie, The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke, starring yours truly. It ended up being selected for a screening at the Sundance Film Festival. Last year, for the season premiere of Vice World of Sports, Rosenfeld produced a 45-minute documentary featuring the rivalry between the Pop Warner teams Liberty City Warriors and Gwen Cherry Bulls.
Now we are doing this series that expands on what the Vice program portrayed. The show tells the stories of the boys who grew up playing for the Liberty City Optimist Club and went on to star in the National Football League. Among them are former NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson and Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson. We are also shining a light on rising stars such as Tutu Atwell, Miami Northwestern Senior High's quarterback, who has committed to the University of Louisville.
Off the field, Warriors of Liberty City will focus on the people who are fighting to keep the community alive. The cameras follow Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, school board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, and community activist Tangela Sears. They are all warriors fighting to end poverty and gun violence. But the show's real stars are the Liberty City Optimist Club kids and the volunteers, from the tutors to the coaches, who watch over them.
When he was playing for the Miami Heat in 2012, James gathered all the players for a team photo of them wearing hoodies to protest the murder of Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin. Lately, he has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and his divisive politics. And James didn't back down from Fox News loudmouth Laura Ingraham when she said he should "just shut up and dribble."
More important, he has understood his talents could pave the way for his loved ones, including his childhood friends, to achieve success. Too often, young pro athletes are so seduced by money and fame that they forget about the people who had their backs since they played little league.
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Not James. He partnered with his friends Maverick Carter, Rich Paul, and Randy Mims to launch a sports agency, LRMR, which represents a formidable stable of NBA players. Now James and Carter are looking to break down Tinseltown's barriers by backing programming that reflects the black experience in America.
It shows both guys are on the same mission as I am.
Warriors of Liberty City premieres at SXSW March 12 at 1:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A session with Luther Campbell, Evan Rosenfeld, Maverick Carter, and Duke Johnson.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.