When Sheldon Bailey grew up playing basketball in Hope Mills, N.C., he was trying to make it to the NBA. A four-year starter while attending local South View High School (1997-00) and Mount Zion Christian Academy (2000-01) – where he was teammates with Amar’e Stoudemire and Jarrett Jack – Bailey was a member of two conference championship squads and averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds per game over his prep career. But luckily the honor student was also a member of the Thespian Society, because now 27 years old, Bailey’s talents are being used off the court.
After playing two seasons at Winthrop University (2001-03), where the 6-6, 225-pound forward helped the Eagles to a 2002 Big South Conference Championship and NCAA Tournament berth, Bailey transferred to Florida International University. But two knee injuries later, and Bailey’s NBA dreams flickered away. Following a brief career playing overseas and in a number of American minor leagues, Bailey is now the set double for the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, having just wrapped his seventh commercial for King James in the past two years.
So while he never made it to the big stage, Sheldon Bailey has had the opportunity to work with (and as) the game’s biggest stars. In an exclusive interview, Shel sheds some light on his life as LeBron James’ double.
Dime: So how did this all come about?
Sheldon Bailey: I was doing a lot of stuff and flying back and forth from Cleveland, and people would come up to me and say I look a lot like LeBron. And on the basketball court, I always kind of had the same mannerisms in my game. I happened to meet the guy casting a LeBron commercial and asked him, “You need a double? Use me.” He saw that we have the same size, build and complexion – more so than others before. I did a really good job and wound up talking to some of the people at Wieden+Kennedy, and they felt same way. That led to other work that Wieden+Kennedy was doing, and other work from agencies that worked with State Farm and McDonald’s.
Dime: What was the first commercial you were in as LeBron?
SB: The first commercial was the one with Lil Wayne and the chalk. That same week I wound up doing the commercial with Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls. It’s cool because I was able to sit down and chop it up with Nicole for about 30 minutes on the couch. That was a great.
Dime: What can you tell us about this new shoot in Miami?
SB: I’m working on a new Nike commercial with LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami. This is the seventh LeBron commercial I’ve done as his stunt and on-camera double. I’m actually the casting director for this job as well. They put me up in the Gansevoort for two weeks. It’s funny that I played basketball professionally in a lot of places, and this is where basketball has taken me.
Dime: Where did you play professionally?
SB: I played for the Shanghai Sharks in China, which is Yao’s old team. I played in Uruguay, Luxembourg, the CBA, USBL, IBL, ABA – basically all the minor leagues. In college I played at Winthrop. In 2002, we were the team that got smashed by Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Dime: For a typical shoot, what exactly do you do on set?
SB: Before the shoot, I stand-in so they can get all the camera angles right. That way everything is prepared so when LeBron comes to set he just steps right in. His time is at a premium. There are also different things that may be too dangerous for him to do, or extra things he doesn’t have to do like dunks or ball-handling.
Dime: What does it take for you to become LeBron?
SB: For my first time, a nine-hour tattoo job! Now they have stencils, but at first it was by hand which meant a whole day just to get LeBron’s tats. For this commercial, they asked if I was comfortable riding a horse. You’re probably not going to get LeBron on a real horse. I don’t know how to ride a horse, but whatever. That’s usually the deal though.
Dime: What did you do for Kobe and Dwight?
SB: I was the stand-in for Kobe’s Guitar Hero commercial. I had to do the dancing, come in and jump over the table. They tried things out with me so they got an idea what they wanted to do with Kobe. You can see my silhouette in that. For Dwight, it’s all about camera angles. In a lot of the shots for Dwight they were just using my legs and doing adidas product shots on my legs. For other shots they’d cut them off at the neck. I’m more of a better fit for LeBron.
Dime: What’s been your favorite shoot?
SB: I really liked the Vitamin Water commercial because it was really all me. And that’s really cool and really different. It also was not just basketball. In the commercial I come around behind a giant Vitamin Water bottle with a giant basketball hoop on my head. The trick was to do the LeBron one-leg takeoff and I had to jump off the stage. That was the best one.
Dime: What do you wear as the stand-in opposed to the double?
SB: The stand-in wears something similar, but the on-set double wears everything exactly the same – from the way he wears bands on his wrist, to how he wears his socks to how he ties his shoes. You have to be very meticulous. In the Vitamin Water commercial they even had to teach me how to walk like LeBron.
Dime: So how much interaction do you actually have with LeBron?
SB: I see him on set, but sometimes we do stuff and he’s not even in town. For the Vitamin Water commercial, I shot that for two days and LeBron just did the voiceover. For the McDonald’s ad, Dwight and Larry Bird were in Indiana and we did our part in L.A.
Dime: How does LeBron react when he does see you? Is it weird?
SB: It’s weird for him, but it’s weird for me too. He agrees we have similarities, but I’m not trying to be LeBron or anybody else but Sheldon.
Dime: Has anyone ever mistaken you for LeBron?
SB: For a shoot once I went to a junior high and it was just me on set. I had on my LeBron outfit with some shades walking by the windows, and the little kids went crazy. Some little girl ran out of the school and came and hugged me, cried and screamed, “I love you, LeBron.” I didn’t know what to do. I said, “LeBron loves you too.” I didn’t want to lie to her and I didn’t want to break her heart.
Dime: So what’s the next step? Where do you see your career headed from here?
SB: As long as LeBron is making commercials, I want to be involved. It’s been a good payday and I’d love for the ride to continue. I got a casting directing job out of this, which is something I’ve been able to add to my resume, and the sky’s the limit. I want to be able to continue to do this. I never made it to the NBA, but it keeps me around NBA situations and has allowed me to build relationships with these guys.
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