The Extraordinary International LeBron Event (ExILE) reached its peak on July 8th with “The Decision.” Propelled by a mass of cultural relevance, that ultimate decision spawned countless hours of TV coverage, reactions across the Web, and one very public, ill-conceived (and now costly) angry letter aimed at the “King.” While LeBron James may be, figuratively, a work of advertising art, more importantly he is a brand name transcending his natural calling in basketball. Between LeBron the person/player and LeBron the business (Brand James), opinions have been consequently altered for better or worse. The incalculable exposure Brand James has received over the past seven or eight weeks (since his former Cavalier team was bounced from the playoffs) has, in fact, been carefully calculated right down to the final buzzer. Read about the story behind “The Decision” here or here.
Everyone close to the superstar, professionally and personally, knew the 2010 free agency period was unprecedented in NBA history and would become a defining moment in his career. Let’s break down what was at stake:
- Millions of Dollars
Depending on who you ask – namely, the Knicks – this could climb into the hundreds of millions. If LeBron really wanted to become a billionaire before he retires, then apparently New York is only place to do that. I do not dispute the report that made this claim, however, major national sponsors will still somehow track down their Chosen One as he continues to exist outside the metro area. In hindsight, is money motivating LeBron’s decision? Short answer: No. Longer answer: Not really.
2. Legacy & Winning
At the age of 25, LeBron still had a chance, in the eyes of many basketball fans, to challenge MJ as the greatest basketball player ever. Granted, he had his work cut out for him – winning half-a-dozen championships as the unquestioned alpha dog of his team and, likely, the league – yet the window was still clearly open. Notice the past tense. By joining forces with another uber-star, Dwyane Wade, LeBron’s role on a championship team will be viewed as diminished, even if they do win six of them together. We may have underestimated him. The man clearly wants to win, over everything else.
While the argument, “Sure LeBron won multiple titles, but Jordan never had the luxury of a team like that!” may be valid, Brand James just kicked the marketing game into overdrive with “The Decision.” The top of the marketing mountain may still be within reach. Think about this. More people tuned into to see where he would play next season than actually watched him play a game on TV last season.
Like all good endorsement folk, LeBron has personality, charisma, mad talent and is articulate (enough) to a garner an enormous following. Beware though, that image is not bulletproof. No, he didn’t fail a drug test, solicit an underage prostitute or commit murder. Yes, LeBron appears to be a pretty decent human being. Yet he did dump an entire sports-title-deprived city in front of millions of people. He might never win Cleveland back. They sang him a song, dammit! How could he leave like that?! Time will heal some of their wounds, but Brand James might have had it easier if it were recovering from adultery. Deserting your fans is almost unforgivable. To the public, that is personal.
The conflicting reactions to LeBron’s ExILE from Cleveland make it difficult to deem it a success. Although the decision to air “The Decision” (or to simply call it that) may have rubbed some people the wrong way, it was ultimately a victory for Brand James. They transformed a big story into the biggest story. An unprecedented TV event, it set the table for the next chapter in the brand’s evolution. Undoubtedly, his image has been damaged in the minds of many fans, but don’t forget the power of the public’s fickleness. LeBron, the player, is no less talented or electrifying on the court in Miami. Isn’t that what everyone fell in love with in the first place? Outside of Ohio, most of us will get over our gripes and happily bear witness to his next move.