Top NBA pick Cade Cunningham wants to be the next LeBron James in business

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Cade Cunningham, the top pick in the National Basketball Association’s 2021 draft, added another endorsement deal to his portfolio. The 19-year-old attacker is now with energy supplement company Uptime.

In this deal, Cunningham will serve as a brand ambassador and promote Uptime products. Financial terms were not disclosed, but equity in the company is not included, according to Cunningham.

California-based Uptime launched an energy drink line in 2014 and the product is sold in more than 35,000 locations and on Amazon. Uptime has raised $11.7 million, according to Pitchbook. Uptime said revenue grew 50% year over year in 2021, but didn’t release any actual numbers.

Chasing LeBron’s Billions

Cunningham was drafted first overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 2021 NBA Draft on Thursday. He averaged 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds in his lone season with Oklahoma State.

Oftentimes, top NBA picks make booze-like deals with Pepsi-owned Gatorade, and stock deals with Bodyarmor. Although Uptime is a much smaller company, Cunningham said it was “in line” with his vegan lifestyle. The company said it uses natural caffeine from green tea in its products.

“I chose a small company because I think the product they’ve made is what I liked,” Cunningham told CNBC. “I’m not all for the big names just because that’s what the consensus says. … I feel like I’m a good image for them, and they make a great product.”

On the pitch, Cunningham is often compared to Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic. And with Cunningham’s unobtrusive play and composure on the field, he’s even heard comparisons to San Antonio Spurs icon Tim Duncan, who led the franchise to five NBA championships.

“I like that,” Cunningham said. “Tim, you can say, is the greatest power forward of all time. He is definitely in the top two.”

When asked about his new team, the Pistons, Cunningham said the franchise is moving in the right direction. “If I’m able to intervene and contribute, I want to take it to the next level.”

With his concept slot, he gets a multi-year contract worth more than $40 million to start his professional career. On the endorsement side, he agreed with Nike on Tuesday and worked a pact with luxury department store Neiman Marcus, which dressed him for the design event.

When asked who he would like to emulate in business, Cunningham LeBron named James. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar reportedly crossed the $1 billion mark and became the first active professional player to do so.

“That’s the best man to watch as a young man coming into the league,” Cunningham said. He said James is a role model for the business side of sports. He “brought forth his storyline so well, opening himself up and letting people into his life. … Obviously he’s a great basketball player, but the things he does off the court – he changes the mindset in the community.”

Cunningham hired a financial advisor and said they have plans to build income from basketball. He pointed to investing in bitcoin and real estate, but he’s not “limiting myself to nothing”.

When asked about the first shares he plans to buy with his money, Cunningham chose Apple. The company reported its third-quarter fiscal results Tuesday, posting revenue of $81.41 billion, up 36% year-over-year.

“I feel like Apple isn’t really losing,” Cunningham said. “So I’ll get me something that I know will work.”

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