Originally posted on Oddities and Nicities
LeBron James' yes men led him down a narcissistic path—one that ended in the death of his 'King-dom' and the pristine value of his personal brand. The basketball star held the keys to the castle in Cleveland. And sat on a throne amongst his followers, although few felt he still had to earn his exclusive status among the very best.
James was a hometown hero, a savior to a city that had seen its better days come and gone. He was the pied piper that would lead them back to greatness—greatness in the eyes of the sports world and in one of the greatest leagues in the world—the NBA.
A lot of pressure was placed on the young man to flash a championship ring for his city. They built him up to god-like status, gave him a wheelbarrow full of perks, and in return, he could do no wrong. He kept his hands clean, unlike most young, exceedingly rich stars, and did his job, which the fans praised him for. And yet, his championship was still missing.
In the blink of an eye on July 8, LeBron James went from hero to villain faster than Forest could run. The announcement of an hour long special in his honor was curious. It had not been done before. When Michael Jordan returned to the NBA, he simply faxed the Bulls…”I’m back.” With his head in the clouds, James thought he was bringing the world what they wanted—but what he didn’t know was how much it would cost him.
Brand loyalty is one of the most important aspects of any marketing commodity. Look at Toyota. They almost suffered a near-collapse last year due to brake failures and lawsuits. Suddenly the brand known for safety and quality was on shaky ground. But, because they knew the volatility of their customers and disloyalty of the market, they went full speed ahead with a brilliant campaign, re-winning followers and gaining new customers. They had a crisis-management team that knew how to deal with the big issues. For LeBron, many of his marketing moves were calculated by inexperienced cronies. For many people who are fans of a brand, a crisis will cause them to question their commitment, but with the right moves a company can walk away with a bruise, rather than a break, as Toyota did.
Adrian Wojnarowski, columnist for Yahoo! Sports called the one-hour show “the worst idea in the history of marketing.” Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks had a short message for Lebron: “Two words. Media training.” It wasn’t just the fans this time that were furious with James for the foolish way he had presented his choice, it was the pundits and colleagues that were embarrassed for him and his legacy.
Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert had his own words for James, spelled out for the world to see.
In the end though, it wasn’t just Cavs fans that James had lost. It was everyone who was fed up with his ego-soaked love fest that had had enough even before he announced what team he was going to.
The name of the team didn’t matter for the brand disaster. That was only part of it. What had mattered was how the message was delivered. Content is king but in this context the delivery was just as important. He not only pissed off Cavs fans, but everyone else who had followed James’ squeaky clean image to his downfall. No one wants to elect a prom queen who campaigns for her crown. Everyone wants the girl-next-door who accepts the title graciously and with dignity.
An all-about-me one-hour special? No one could find the dignity in that.
And with that one hour LeBron’s image has been tarnished. No longer will he be viewed as a king or hero. He is just another basketball player enjoying all of life’s perks. And even if he does win a championship it will not mean nearly as much as it did to a city who embraced him with all they had left. And it still wasn’t enough.