Tonight is the biggest game on the global club football calendar and two NBA superstars will be keeping a keener eye than most.
LeBron James is the biggest name in global basketball and the LA Lakers player is also a massive fan of the Reds.
Luka Doncic, on the other hand, is a die-hard Madridista. The Slovenian superstar – for the uninitiated – has been putting up numbers only surpassed by Michael Jordan in his young career so far. So if you happen to be a football fan reading this article who has not heard of Dallas Mavericks star Doncic, you will definitely will in the future.
The two NBA superstars’ beloved clubs face off in Paris tonight for the 2022 UEFA Champions League crown and both Doncic and James will no doubt be cheering their teams on.
What’s fascinating though, is the connection that both men have to their clubs and how and why it became the case.
They are both different stories and equally intriguing, as to how their investment – in both figurative and literal terms for one of the pair – came to be.
LeBron James and Liverpool
LeBron James’ love affair with the Reds started after he made his first visit to Anfield in October 2011, where he watched Liverpool take on Manchester United.
After that match, he explained to his Twitter followers how visiting Anfield cemented his love for the club.
“Liverpool have won 18 league championships and it meant a lot to read about King Kenny and Steven Gerrard – a hometown kid who now captains the team,” he said.
“And then to be at Anfield and see 40,000 fans screaming at the top of their lungs the whole game was an unbelievable experience for me.
“One of the single best experiences of my life! The excitement that these fans have is like no other.”
He purchased a minority ownership stake in April 2011 as part of a sponsorship deal with Fenway Sports Group (FSG). James secured two per cent of Liverpool for £ 4.7 million ($ 6.5 million) alongside business partner Maverick Carter. An investment which has increased in value to a figure approaching £ 40m since he made it.
At the end of that first season when he became involved, Liverpool finished sixth in a season where they also suffered the ignominy of a cup exit at the hands of Northampton Town.
Since then, the Reds have since ended their 30-year league title drought – a success James celebrated on social media gleefully – and lifted the Champions League once again.
Now, Jurgen Klopp’s juggernaut is targeting a historic treble after falling just short of league glory to a magnificent Manchester City side.
The four-time NBA champion and MVP will have a seat to attend the game tonight as a guest of honor given that he is one of Liverpool’s owners.
Sky Sports pundit certainly Jamie Carragher wants to see him there. He tweeted: “Give us the support we need to win that seventh European Cup. Come and join us big man!”
After the success of the initial investment and his increased devotion to the club, James’s stake was increased by an undisclosed amount last year when he became an official partner of the FSG ownership group.
Carter was also added to the group and admitted he and James always saw themselves becoming more involved.
“Working with Fenway Sports Group for the past decade has taught LeBron and me so much about the business on a global scale, and we’ve always believed it would lead to something bigger,” Carter said.
“We are proud to be part of this iconic ownership group and are excited about the opportunities that come with that to continue creating change and empowering people of every race, gender and background to be part of the process.”
When Liverpool’s new home shirt, with the kit supplied by Nike, was announced for the 2020-21 season, James sent personalized shirts to various US sports stars, accompanied by a heartfelt message about his support for Liverpool.
“Nine years ago, I went to my first game at Anfield,” it read.
“I’ll never forget the feeling of walking through the Shankly Gates, the atmosphere and the fans. It was an adrenaline rush and one of the greatest experiences I’ve had watching sports.
“Liverpool FC is admired across the world and I’ve learned first-hand that it’s the people who make the community special.
“Family and community are truly at the heart of everything they do. No matter where they are.
“It’s the Liverpool way. Wear it with pride! LeBron.”
After he became part of the ownership group, Reds fans implored James to “get on the phone” to other Nike athletes, such as Kylian Mbappe, to get them to sign for the club.
Even a global superstar of LeBron’s gravitas might struggle to hold that much sway in another sport, but what is certain is tonight he will be sporting his Liverpool colors with the pride he spoke of – in the hope that his team can overcome Doncic’s Real Madrid.
Luka Doncic and Real Madrid
Luka Doncic is a massive fan of the football team but he is also one of the greatest players in the Real Madrid basketball fate history.
He joined the club aged just 13 as a youth player and in April 2015 he made his debut for the senior team soon after turning 16, becoming the youngest player in European giants’ history (yes, they are in basketball too).
Two years later, his prodigious talent saw him lead Real to the 2018 EuroLeague title, winning the EuroLeague MVP as well as the Final Four MVP. He was also named the ACB (Spain’s domestic league) Most Valuable Player and won back-to-back EuroLeague Rising Star and ACB Best Young Player awards. Subsequently, he has been selected to the EuroLeague 2010 All-Decade Team.
It’s a staggering honors roll for a player who only spent a few years with the club before he was selected third in the NBA Draft in 2019.
Doncic, though, was a Real Madrid fan long before joining the club’s famous youth academy a decade ago.
“Always Real Madrid. I always watched Real Madrid. I always liked Real Madrid,” Doncic said, when asked by Steve Nash which was his team while growing up for a Bleacher Report video.
He also admitted to being completely starstruck when he first had a chance to interact with his favorite football player Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I was 16 when I met him, I was so nervous I could not even talk,” Doncic said.
Interestingly, Real Madrid’s basketball and footballing prospects are developed on the same site so there is some crossover between respective members of the ‘La Fabrica’ academy for players across the respective sports.
Doncic played as a striker in his youth and could have been a footballer at a decent level, and the 6ft 7ins forward likes to joke that he was “good in the air”.
Fran Martinez, a goalkeeper who was a classmate and housemate of Doncic’s at the academy, told Bleacher Report that Luka is a devoted fan of Los Merengues.
“He is a big football fan. He’s very Madridista, he really loved Real Madrid’s football team,” Martinez said.
“He was definitely one of the basketball players that liked football. I remember in the patio a lot of times we played football together and he used to go to the Bernabeu for matches.
“When he was living with us in the residence, we used to go all together in a bus to the stadium. We went there all the time-we used to get comp tickets and then when he went to live outside the residence in his own place he used to go on his own.
“We had a great time cheering on Real Madrid at the games, singing the typical terrace songs for Real Madrid like ‘La Decima Copa de Europa’. I remember we used to sing that one and of course, if Real Madrid won when we came back on the bus we were very happy boys. “
Doncic has been keeping keen tabs on the fortunes this season even as he’s being busy exerting himself for the Dallas Mavericks, pushing the franchise to the best level they’ve been at since their solitary NBA Championship season in 2011.
When asked about Real Madrid’s comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16 when a 3-1 victory at home saw them come from behind to go through, the point guard singled out Karim Benzema, who scored a hat-trick, and Luka Modric for praise.
“I watched the second half of the game. What Benzema has done is just unbelievable. He scored three goals in just a few minutes. Modric also displayed his class as a player, just amazing,” he said.
Real Madrid are looking to be crowned European champions for an incredible 14th time tonight. After elimination in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Doncic will now be able to watch the game without having to worry about playing a game of basketball.
As silver linings go, that’s a decent one, and victory at the Stade de France tonight would be welcomed with delight by the Slovenian – wherever in the world he ends up watching the game.
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