Hoop heads around the world would be forgiven if they didn’t know who Ashlee Ammons was? Truth be told, she is not the biggest basketball fan and her knowledge of the sport is minimal, at best. But as a sophomore in college, she landed a job shadowing one of the most high-profile NBA rookies since Michael Jordan.
And while this job would now be the dream of every basketball fan all over, Ammons acquired this internship, without realising that she was actually going for it.
“I get this interview, and I was a horrific driver when I was growing up,” Ammons recalls. “I had totalled three cars at this point. That was probably the biggest issue my parents had with me. They were really sick of me and the car situation.
“But I remember my mum. I said ‘Mum, I have got an interview and it’s in downtown Cleveland, can you drive me?’ So my mum comes to pick me up. I had on my little suit and I go for this interview and I thought it was with IMG Sports because IMG is headquartered in Cleveland. And it was in the IMG building. But it actually wasn’t and so they told me in that interview. They’re like, ‘No, this is actually to be an intern to LeBron James.’”
At the time Ammons joined LRMR, James’ sports-marketing company, James was four years into his NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers and had just come off his first Finals experience where he and the Cavs were swept by a stronger and deeper San Antonio Spurs outfit so despite the setback, the player was well on his way to being the icon he is today.
Ammons though admits that she was not overly familiar with James but had a grasp of his high school background with St Vincent-St Mary and the hype that stalked him, en route to his first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.
“I had known about him just because growing up in northeast Ohio was so close to Akron, so you started hearing about this superhuman phenomenon that was playing basketball,” Ammons said. “But at the time of me getting that internship, he was already in the NBA.”
The moment Ammons officially got the job and had her start date, the status of LeBron was sinking in. She was still in college and living out of a tiny dorm at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio. She was excited but at the same time nervous. However, the experience of working and promoting James to the globe was unforgettable – and she learned a lot, too.
“I have to say that it was the most amazing internship experience,” she admits. “A lot of that has to do with the woman who is still a mentor to me today that I reported to. So she was a woman who came from academia, she worked at the University of Akron very high up there. And she came with the mentality for internships, that internships were no one needed to know you were an intern. She was like ‘As far as the outside world is concerned, you’re a part of this team. So if you carry yourself that way, no one has to know you’re an intern.’ And that always stick with me. She never treated us like ‘Go fetch me tea,’ kind of thing. And even to take a step back.”
During her time at LRMR, Ammons felt the close, almost family like atmosphere, something that completely took her back and made her enjoy the job even more. She was not the typical intern that got the coffees and teas each morning or emptied the waste paper baskets at the end of each working day. She was hands on, assisting and shadowing with the major sponsorship deals with Coca Cola and Nike. Ammons was also pleasantly stunned to learn that James actually fired the professional agents that were originally brought in to help build his image and instead hired his friends Rich Paul, Maverick Carter, and Randy Mims – all childhood friends to help launch LRMR in 2006 – Paul, one of the founders has gone on to become one of the most recognised sports agents in America, with John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Ben Simmons among his clients.
Ammons fondly remembers her first project with LRMR. “I remember I was the first person that put in a system for his fan mail,” she explains. “Which was a nightmare and the greatest thing all at once because it was actually a project that I was getting to own, myself. It wasn’t something where you were having somebody look over your shoulder all the time. It was more like ‘You own this and when you have a question come to me otherwise you’ll figure it out.’”
Among her biggest accomplishments with the marketing firm was organising a two-day LRMR Marketing Summit in James’ hometown of Akron where the heads of Coca Cola and Nike among others came down to discuss how to grow the LeBron brand further. She also got to spend a lot of time with James himself and despite his public shows of hard work on the court mixed with his off-court humanitarianism, King James had his home comforts.
“I remember he was hungry and he came to the office and I’m not Martha Stewart whatsoever and so he was like, ‘Hey, I’m hungry, what do we have?’” Ammons says. “And we have… This office was beautiful. If you can imagine, it had a full kitchen in it, there was a bathroom with a shower, all these things again. This was an internship I actually got paid to do. So, also awesome. And I was like, ‘ I can do peanut butter and jelly?’ And he was like, ‘Okay, yeah let’s do that.’ And I’ll never forget, I brought it in to his office, he kind of looked up like, ‘You cut the crusts off?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah’.
Ammons had made her first mistake since she started at LRMR. She cut the crusts off LeBron James’ peanut butter and jelly sandwich, without knowing that he wanted the crusts to remain.
She also stumbled across James watching episodes of SpongeBob Squarepants, which was typical of LeBron’s role as a father away from the court. Ammons’ knowledge of LeBron James, the person had radically increased in her three years at LRMR. She respected the family-orientated man that he was, from his business ventures, to his life away from the basketball court where he is a three-time NBA champion, four-time MVP and 13-time NBA All-Star among an bursting list of accomplishments.
Ammons has gone on to become a co-founder and COO of Mixtroz, a marketing app that helps event attendees easily connect with one another. But her time with LeBron James will never be forgotten.
Shawn Ketcham (thestoriespodcast), contributed to this feature. Quotes obtained by Shawn Ketcham.