On Friday, Maverick Carter gave the commencement address at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and welcomed the more than 900 graduates to the real world.
As with any good commencement address, Carter used a blend of personal anecdotes, learned advice, and inspirational material to encourage the new grads to aim beyond the safe, low-risk career path and always bet big on themselves. The lessons he imparted came from his experiences of working with LeBron James, but also growing up around his grandmother’s basement casino. Between the two, Carter said he learned how to measure risk versus reward, instantaneously calculating each decision based on upside and downside, and being prepared to take a risk.
But perhaps the best lesson Carter gave in this speech was how to make the most of every brand opportunity. He managed to take the tagline and inspiration behind his media startup Uninterrupted–“More Than”–and extend it far beyond the idea of giving athletes a voice, turning it into a mantra for the everyday lives and careers of his audience.
This was no subliminal message. Carter managed to fit Uninterrupted’s “More Than” tagline into the 26-minute speech at least 21 times.
“‘More than’ is the tagline of the company LeBron and I started in November 2014 called Uninterrupted,” said Carter, early on in the speech. “‘More Than’ is Uninterrupted’s ‘Just Do It’ or ‘Think Different.’ And one day, ‘More Than’ will be just as powerful as those visionary phrases. It is just as meaningful. ‘More Than’ means refusing to define yourself according to what society dictates, or everyone around you thinks you should do or be. ‘More Than’ challenges every norm, refuses to accept the rules as they are, one-size-fits-all, and most importantly, ‘More Than’ implores you to take massive risk.”
This could literally be the marketing pitch for Uninterrupted. The wild part is, it actually fit perfectly into his overall message–and frankly the message of 90% of all the other seize-the-day commencement speeches happening around the country right now.
As with any great ad, Carter’s speech managed to take the specificity of Uninterrupted, and apply it to the personal lives of his audience by forging an emotional connection. He did so by talking about his modest childhood, his grandmother, his parents, and the unexpected good fortune of having a best friend named LeBron. But he also did it by using the universal desire to be understood. He tied “More Than” to the idea of “opportunity stereotypes,” those that are implicitly or explicitly designed to limit how you think about yourself, the decisions you make, and the opportunities you were told you can pursue, rather than the ones you might actually want to pursue.
“Smart boys get their MBA. Smart girls go to law school,” he said. “Asian kids don’t work in hip-hop. Mexican kids don’t work in tech. Basketball players risk losing endorsement deals by speaking out on social issues. Friends of basketball players are happy to just hang out and should accept they’re part of a posse. From the moment you walk off this campus, you’re going to feel pressure to make the safe, obvious professional choices. To do what you’re supposed to do, rather than explore and discover what you may actually want to do. I’m standing here today as a living testament to make sure you all know what makes the most sense may not even make sense at all.”
He ended the speech by relating how the lessons of his biggest career failure, The Decision–LeBron’s 2010 live TV announcement that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Miami Heat–led to what Uninterrupted is today.
His last line tied it all in a perfectly branded bow. “Bet on yourself and be . . . more than.”
Watch the whole speech below: