A whole new ball game: NBA star buys himself a stake in Liverpool

One of the largest and most controversial stars in American sport is coming to Anfield – and it's bad news for whoever is sitting behind him.

The 6ft 8in basketball superstar LeBron James has secured a minority stake in Liverpool Football Club, in a deal brokered by the club's US owners. Fenway Sports Group, which owns Liverpool as well as the Major League Baseball team Boston Red Sox, will represent James globally, with the Miami Heat player becoming a minority owner of the Anfield side in return.

The 26-year-old said he was "excited to be affiliated with this incredible organisation", adding that he would be attending a game in Liverpool soon.

"The first time I stepped on an NBA [National Basketball Association] court I became a businessman," James, 26, told the Wall Street Journal. "This is a great opportunity for me."

Although not very popular in Britain, America's NBA attracts giant audiences throughout the world. Only the Premier League is watched in more countries. Liverpool's chairman, Tom Werner, said: "There are very few athletes who can match his global reach, appeal and iconic status... We feel the business opportunities for both working and being identified together in emerging international markets will result in unforeseen opportunities that neither would have been able to realise alone."

James is already one of the richest sportsmen in the world. He signed his first endorsement deal with Nike before even turning professional. He is currently paid $15.8m (£9.7m) by Miami Heat, but when his endorsements from Nike, McDonald's and Coca-Cola are totted up, his earnings stand at an estimated $30m a year. The terms of the new deal have not been released, but it is expected that Fenway Sports will earn a small commission on any deals it makes on behalf of James.

One place such a deal is unlikely to be signed is in his native Ohio. Mr James grew up in Akron, a few miles south of Cleveland, whose Cavaliers' team he joined in 2003 as a 19-year-old. His departure to Miami Heat last summer is widely viewed as one of the most acrimonious in sporting history.

Such was the extent of his idolisation prior to the move, the Ohio governor Ted Strickland personally altered state legislation over the size of advertising next to freeways so a 10-storey high billboard of James could remain where it was. The move to Miami was revealed in an hour-long TV show called The Decision and his former teammates were only informed a few minutes before it was aired.

The announcement, which James made on live television, prompted the Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert to issue an open letter to fans stating: "You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. This shocking act of disloyalty from our home-grown 'chosen one' sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And who we would want them to grow up to become."

In a further twist, James's mother Gloria – who raised her son by herself after his ex-convict father left – was arrested in Miami Beach early yesterday morning after an alleged altercation with a valet at a hotel.

Miami vs Liverpool

Miami

Population: 400,000

Average temperature in April: 24C

Beach: The world-famous Miami Beach

Famous for: TV show Miami Vice (centring on a detective who lived on a boat with his alligator, Elvis), and being one of the cruise capitals of the world

Liverpool

Population: 450,000

Average temperature in April: 9C

Beach: Windswept Crosby Beach, dotted with Antony Gormley statues

Famous for: Football, The Beatles and its docks

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