LeBron James' 'Survivor's Remorse': Race, Guilt and the 'Entourage' Comparison

The comedy's producers used the TCA platform to tout the behind-the-scenes series about a pro basketball player that isn't designed to resemble James.
Courtesy of Audemars Piguet
Lebron James

LeBron James was the elephant not in the room on Friday.

Mere hours after James announced he’ll be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, his fellow producers were on hand at the television critics associations to peddle his forthcoming Starz comedy, Survivor’s Remorse. Much of the panel focused on clarifying what the show is (a fictional, family show) and isn’t (a niche African-American show about James' life). 

The fall comedy is set in the world of professional basketball and explores the comedy and drama of an experience that everyone reads about, but few understand -- what truly happens when you make it out. Starz has ordered six episodes of the series. It centers on Cam Calloway, a basketball phenom in his early 20s who is suddenly thrust into the limelight after signing a multimillion-dollar contract with a professional basketball team. Cam, along with his cousin and confidant Reggie Vaughn, confront the challenges of carrying opportunistic family members and their strong ties to the impoverished community that they come from.

The project originated with James’ business manager and childhood friend Maverick Carter and mega-producer Tom Werner, who owns both soccer’s Liverpool Football Club and the Boston Red Sox. Maverick told the room full of reporters that the idea of “survivor’s remorse” was something that he thought about often, with Werner adding that that experience is one he sees often in his position as a high-powered sports exec. They approached writer Mike O’Malley, a big Boston sports fan himself, who said he was very eager to craft a series that looks at the off-camera world of pro athletes.

That the series is poised to garner comparisons to HBO's Entourage is not at all worrisome to its producers. In fact, Werner, whose resume is lined with hit comedies from The Cosby Show to That '70s Show, invites them. The biggest difference, however, is that "the posse is really Cam’s family" rather than a brother and long-time friends as it was for Vinny Chase. O'Malley adds that the emotional involvement in the pursuit of success is often that much greater in the world of sports than it is in Hollywood.

Though Starz CEO Chris Albrecht noted earlier in the day that often it is challenging for a series fronted by an African-American cast to attract a white audience, the cast and producers suggests that that shouldn't be an issue here either. As two of the actresses noted, O'Malley is writing a series for a broad audience rather than penning one specifically for a black demo as other series have done. "This is about a family. It’s got great appeal to the audience whether they’re white or black or yellow or green," said Werner, reminding the room of Cosby's reach, before adding: "I'm very confident that this has cross-over appeal."

To be sure, James’ involvement in Survivor's Remorse as a producer on the series is limited given his primary job as a pro athlete. Still, James was able to sit down with O’Malley and to attend an early table read down in Miami. More recently, particularly as he was focused on the NBA playoffs and then as his next steps as a free agent, he’s played the role of "supporter" more than anything else. As for his absence on this day, Carter joked: "Up until today he was employed, so he may be in the HR office getting his paperwork."

Though there are no plans for James to appear on camera on this show, Carter acknowledged that James got the acting bug. He’s enjoyed being in front of the camera in a multitude of commercials and will act in the upcoming Judd Apatow film Trainwreck. Still, Carter was careful to note that James’ no. 1 priority “by a long shot” will continue to be basketball.