Tonight is going to be a very interesting night in the NBA. LeBron “King” James returns to Cleveland for the first time with his new team the Miami Heat to face the Cleveland Cavaliers. To say that he is going to be greeted with less than open arms would be the understatement of all understatements. Expect venom to be spewed for 48 minutes. I do not think that LeBron James or his Heat teammates realize what is going to be in store for them. 2010: The King’s Decision might go down as one of the biggest bonehead moves in sports PR of all time.
Lets set the scene for how we have gotten to where we are today:
LeBron had been a model citizen for the NBA. He had been everything the “second coming of Michael Jordan” should be, minus winning the rings. However, Jordan did not win his first ring until his seventh year in the NBA. (He of course, followed that first up with five more.) Leading up to his decision, King James made genius brand moves, aligned himself with business minds that truly know how to create wealth (Warren Buffet), and managed to still be the most desirable NBA player of young fans looking for a role model. So for someone that has seemingly been a step-ahead of the branding and business game all of his life — how could he make such a MONUMENTALLY IDIOTIC bad move?
If his life to that point had been a calculated game of chess, he sacrificed his Queen for reasons unbeknownst to anyone. An announcement plan? 1 hour special supporting the Boys & Girls Club (of which most people felt was in poor taste)? The Cavs, your hometown team were notified 5 minutes before you made your decision? How did he, or the brain-trust he had hired and surrounded him, think that idea was going to end well? If he announced he was going to leave Cleveland, he would immediately become a bigger villain than Art Modell. If he chose to leave the Cavaliers for another team, he would come across a presumptuous egomaniac that really places himself only a notch below God. “I’ve decided to take my talents to South Beach,” will live in infamy and replayed on ESPN for the next 100 years as one of the most negatively associated sound bites ever. LeBron “King James” hurt both his brand, and his business irrefutably.
Consider this a case point for bad PR tactics 101.
But let’s step back for a second.
Can you blame him? Can you demon-ize someone who had been treated like a “God” since he was a teenager? His mistakes glossed over, could do no wrong, say no wrong, be no wrong, placed on a pedestal, hand fed food, and had the golden fleeced diaper to prove it. Guess what, at that point, he is a “God”. We created LeBron “King” James. No one human-being is born with that sense of entitlement. It’s given to you. Furthermore, “God-Complex” entitlement is given to you….by a loooooooooooooot more people than your parents. We created a monster, and we are going to bad mouth him for doing something we’ve enabled, asked and wished for him to do — Be a “God”? While it was unequivocally bad PR announcing his decision the way he did, is he truly solely to blame? LeBron has even gone on the record as saying in hindsight he’d do it differently if he got to do it over, which you’d expect to hear amidst the aftermath of 2010: The King’s Decision.
- It was a horrible move for his brand and his business.
- But folks, we helped created it.
And that brings the entire underlying PR point of this story full circle: PR is not about what you do, its about how its received. The kicker? Sometimes I will have a hand in creating the ego that you one day show — but that does not mean I will like it. One bit. The game of PR is a fickle one — there is no “Rule Book” of absolutes.