LeBron James Signs NFL Pal Ted Ginn Jr. to Marketing Deal

CLEVELAND (AP) - LeBron James thinks he can help fast friend Ted Ginn Jr. become a bigger star.

Further broadening his business portfolio, the Cavaliers' forward has signed Ginn, the former Ohio State speedster now a rookie wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins, to a marketing contract.

Ginn is the first athlete signed by LRMR Marketing, James' budding sports marketing company.

"To do this, not so much for money but to maybe get on a Sprite commercial with LeBron or anything, that'd be fun," Ginn said.

Ginn, who signed a five-year contract worth more than $13 million last week, said knowing James for years made the decision an easy one.

"A lot of football guys don't get a lot of marketing their first couple years coming out," he said. "You've got to do big things to do that. He's been a good friend to me for the last four or five years, so the best thing for me is get involved with someone I know."

James formed the marketing firm two years ago with childhood friends Richard Paul, Maverick Carter and Randy Mims. The company takes its name from the initials of the foursome's first names.

The group's goal was to heighten James' profile through endorsement deals and business deals. The 22-year-old star, who led Cleveland to its first NBA finals last season, is one of the world's most recognized athletes.

While not on as grand of a scale, LRMR is hoping to enhance Ginn's image with business ventures.

"We're excited about working with Ted," said Maverick Carter, LRMR's CEO. "We've known him for a long time and he's someone who has the same values we do. We have a lot of respect for him and his family."

Carter said the first step will be acquiring a shoe and apparel deal for Ginn, who skipped his senior season with the Buckeyes to turn pro. LRMR plans to sign other pro athletes, Carter added.

Ginn is excited about the chance to work with James, whom he has known for years. James has been mixing basketball and business moves for awhile.

He signed a seven-year, $90 million deal with Nike before graduating high school and he has amassed more than $150 million in endorsement contracts. Earlier this year, he launched a Web site in a partnership with Microsoft. Forbes Magazine estimated that James made $26 million from June 2005 to June 2006.

James' TV commercials for Nike, in which he plays four different versions of himself, are extremely popular. He successfully hosted the ESPY Awards last month and will host the season premiere of "Saturday Night Live" in September. Last season, Ohio State's basketball team wore jerseys and shorts bearing James' logo.

From the start, James has followed a path blazed by Michael Jordan, who built a business empire during his NBA career and has grown his Air Jordan brand in retirement.

"One day, I hope LeBron could be like Jordan and I can be the first guy to come out with some LeBron cleats and things like that," Ginn said. "In time, this could be like Jordan. And to be the first football guy to sign with him, that's something no one can ever take away from me."