Why All of LeBron James’ Teammates Call Him the ‘Cheapest Guy in the NBA’

LeBron James is one of the most successful athletes in the history of pro sports. His stardom began when he wasn’t old enough to drive, so one might expect him to blow through money like it’s nothing. However, this is not the case. Several of James’ closest friends and teammates have commented on how cheap the reigning NBA Finals MVP can be.

LeBron James grew up poor

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LeBron’s story is nothing new to anyone who has followed him. He grew up with a single mother in the projects of Akron, Ohio. While James can now afford all the food, housing, and comfort in the world, every penny was a gift from up above when he was a kid. He spoke about this with friend and associate Maverick Carter on his web series Kneading Dough

“I had no idea what a pantry was until I was like 15 years old.” Whatever food his household had was kept “on top of the refrigerator,” he recalled. “Everything: chips, cereal, bread. All on top of the refrigerator.”

Eventually, as James entered high school and came with a hype unseen by anyone else his age, he started to get glimpses of a world away from poverty. This occasionally got him into some trouble, reports the New York Times, such as when he was suspended after allegations that his family took some unsanctioned money, but it’s hard to blame the young teenager for jumping at such things. 

Fresh out of high school and in the NBA, however, James had access to millions. How did he celebrate? By depositing his first endorsement check in the bank, getting $2,000 out of the bank, and taking his friends to a local amusement park, according to ESPN. James keeps a similar mindset many years later despite mansions, cars, and more luxury than most of us could ever dream of. 

The stingy King

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LeBron proudly wears his stinginess on his sleeve. In a 2017 interview, he responded to best friend Dwyane Wade’s claim that he is the cheapest guy in the NBA. According to James, he has experienced poverty early on and hopes to use that to be better with his money. He told the ESPN personality that he doesn’t use data roaming on his phone, won’t buy any apps, and still uses Pandora’s commercial-free version. 

Former teammate Iman Shumpert confirmed this in his interview. However, while James is known to split the bill at dinner and cut off every penny that he can, Shumpert sees it as an admirable case of someone good with his money. According to Wealth Simple, Shumpert sees James as somebody he can speak to about business endeavors in the future:

“Now that I think about it, our whole team isn’t big on expensive stuff. For as much money as we make, we’re all pretty cheap. We split the bill at dinner. We’re smart about our coins, man. If I ever wanted to have someone on the team invest my money, it’d be LeBron.

On the other hand, who would I get to throw the most baller-ific birthday party? Like if I wanted circus-in-town type sh-t? I’d let RJ [Richard Jefferson] and Channing [Frye] throw it. Those dudes are crazy.”

These endorsements don’t just come from teammates, however. Billionaire Warren Buffett has also lauded James’ penchant for stinginess. 

Hanging with the billionaires 

Dejounte Murray of the Spurs greets LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers
The Spurs’ Dejounte Murray greets LeBron James of the Lakers | Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Speaking about James’ off-the-court endeavors, Buffet said that James reached out early on and developed a business mindset early on. According to USA Today, Buffett recognized that “money mind” when James was still a kid, and he has helped advise him into becoming the whale that he is today. 

It might not seem like it, but James is in the twilight of his career. However, while books have been written about athletes’ irresponsible habits, don’t expect James to be one of them. From his stingy habits to his money-mind, James shows that athletes don’t have to keep success and growth out on the court. Doing so behind the scenes can be what sets them up for life after sports.