Investing in the future of pizza just seemed like a more rewarding business idea than collecting spokesman checks from McDonald's (MCD) - Get McDonald's Corporation (MCD) Report , says NBA star LeBron James.
"It was a great partnership with McDonald's, we did some great things on television, but I remember we went to the first ever Blaze Pizza in UC Irvine, we tasted the product, and it tasted phenomenal," explained James in a recent episode of web series "Kneading Dough." "The potential on what we could make [as Blaze Pizza franchisees] if we just put the time and effort into it exceeded what McDonald's guaranteed me over the next four years."
James pegged that at about $15 million over the next four years.
The Cleveland Cavaliers guard, who often looks to billionaire Warren Buffett for investing advice, added, "But more importantly for me, we actually get to build this [Blaze Pizza] -- forget the money, we can actually build something and then if it doesn't become successful, then I could only blame myself because I know the product is that damn good."
The gamble may be about to pay off in a big way.
Blaze Pizza is reportedly in advanced discussions with a buyout firm over selling a significant minority stake in the company. A deal could value Blaze Pizza at $100 million.
Since ditching McDonald's to become a spokesman for the upstart pizza chain last October, James has amassed a portfolio of more than 16 Blaze Pizza locations as a franchisee across Chicago and South Florida. James also reportedly owns 10% of Blaze Pizza, a stake likely to be worth more should private equity get into the mix.
James isn't stopping in those regions, however. He has plans to open Blaze Pizza stores in his hometown of Cleveland, Blaze Pizza COO Jim Mizes told TheStreet in an interview last September.
To be sure, Blaze Pizza isn't just a LeBron James story, though the two are now often discussed in the same breath. The fast-growing company continues to gain followers because of its focus on "healthier" ingredients such as gluten-free dough. Blaze Pizza opened 68 new restaurants last year, reaching 173 locations across the United States. The fast-casual pizza chain's sales surged 84% to $186 million last year.
"Kneading Dough" is part of the personal financial series put out by Uninterrupted, James' and longtime business partner Maverick Carter's media company, and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) - Get JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) Report geared to help young athletes manage their money.