BOSTON - Even with almost 17 million followers on Twitter and nearly 22 million on Facebook, LeBron James didn't hesitate when asked his preferred method of connecting with fans.
"The basketball court," the Cleveland Cavaliers star said on Thursday night during an "idea exchange" at Fenway Park.
Speaking to business leaders at the home of the Boston Red Sox, James said his goal is to remain authentic, whether it's in his business relationships or his interactions with fans. The two-time NBA champion said he won't endorse a product unless he likes it, and he won't speak out on an issue unless he means it.
"The people, the consumer, they know what's real and what's fake," said James, whose Cavaliers were in town for Friday night's game against the Boston Celtics. "You cannot shortcut, you cannot cheat, because they will know."
James has one of the top 50 Twitter followings, the biggest among U.S. athletes and second in the world only to soccer star Cristiano Renaldo. He cultivates it with the usual updates about what's going on in his life — his newborn daughter couldn't sleep the previous night — and also with thoughts on larger issues.
"My fans are part of the reason I am where I am today," he said. "I'd love them to ride along this ride."
James was one of the league's most vocal critics of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was recorded making racist statements. James said there was no place in the NBA for Sterling, who was eventually forced to sell the team.
"I make decisions to speak about things when I have knowledge about it," said James, who also spoke out after the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin. "Things that I feel passionate about, things that I feel my power and my voice can bring something to, I will speak out about it."
Fans respond to James, according to SapientNitro Chief Marketing Officer Bill Kanarick, who moderated the panel with James and his business partner Maverick Carter. Each tweet he sends leads to 2,800 retweets or responses, Kanarick said; Justin Bieber, who has 56.7 million Twitter followers, has an average of 1,700 interactions per tweet.
"I don't think there's a selfish or commercial interest," Kanarick said. "It's a personal decision to connect with fans."