So, it’s five days after LeBron James won the NBA championship and finally got his ring. It’s five days after he said, “It’s about damn time …. it’s about damn time.” And it’s nine days after I posted my original story and, as expected, others are writing about the same thing (see Rich Thomaselli’s article at AdAge).
I’ve been “chewing” on a follow-up to my blog, and my peers have spurred me to write. One of my good friends and colleagues [K.A.] wrote me an email titled “LeBron vs. Macbeth” after reading my blog. It was quite a thought-stirrer for me. As you’d imagine by the title, he predicts there will never be another Michael Jordan on the court or in the marketing world. He makes two great points:
1. “The NBA has gone past the point where it can create cultural icons, which is what Jordan was.”
2. “Jordan not only created a dynasty, he created the first commercial sports franchise.”
So, whether I agreed or disagreed with him, I decided to take the opposite stance and see if I could prove him wrong—or at least make a good case for LeBron to make a run for the sports marketing throne.
Let’s start with on the court and his play. LeBron played a different game of basketball this season. He seemed to have studied Magic Johnson and his leadership skills, becoming a playmaker in both passing and scoring. In the words of the man himself, I would dare say, “It’s about damn time that he realized playing selfless ball can make you a champion.” Not just an improving game, but maturity is what will get him one step closer to the rarefied air of Michael Jordan.
People say LeBron dumped Cleveland and sold out to be part of a team that “purchased” its talent. Even Jordan went on record saying he wouldn’t have done what LeBron did and given up on Cleveland. Honestly, I think that’s bogus. Jordan had Pippen and Rodman and then Pippen and Grant. Heck, Magic had Kareem and Worthy; Bird had Parish and McHale. So, did LeBron sell out by signing with Miami? No way! He did what the greats before him did: He became part of a great troika, a troika that seems will be in place for quite some time. Let’s see how many three-peats they can achieve. I say they have a good five years more of great play together, and let’s not forget, year one of the troika got them to the finals and year two won the championship. Not too shabby.
Now, let’s talk about the PR debacle of “The Decision.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last couple of days. Can he or will he ever recover from that mess? Will LeBron ever regain non-villain status? He came out this season with a different approach: being the team player/team leader. He said losing last year made him a different player. This year, he went back to basics. In addition, he had help from Dwayne Wade, who let him take the leadership role, because we all know the Heat was his team before LeBron got there. I say kudos to Wade. Good for you for putting aside your ego for the betterment of the team, the players, the organization and the fans. Herein lies the secret to LeBron’s recovery. However, the secret is that it isn’t a recovery or a repair. It’s a reframe—a reframe of his marketable brand. Plus, I think LeBron is on his way to chasing Jordan’s marketing success, because he’s begun reframing the story instead of repairing it. He’s changed the focus from repairing his reputation to being the perfect player to one who is attentive, pensive and a leader. Heck, he’s even begun reading before games. Yes, reading! Though he might very well enjoy it, or it may be a soothing distraction from the stress, it all seems to be part of him reframing the story. He traded the Beats for the books.
The marketers have already started. Nike was immediately ready with its spot “The Ring Maker.” I liked the idea. It goes a long way toward helping LeBron reframe. The truth of the matter is, however, that none of the big-time NBA players would be where they are today without Michael Jordan having helped pave the way for them. Let’s face it: LeBron’s problem is that Jordan came before him. Any athlete, NBA or not, would have a hard time coming close to Jordan’s marketing success. He wrote the book on it! Tiger came close, but, as I said in my previous blog, LeBron needs to leverage the new media channels to even come close to challenging Jordan’s marketing success. I do think he’s started, though. His first tweet after a two-month hiatus was perfect. Why? Because he knew he couldn’t say everything he wanted to or needed to in 140 characters or less, so what did he do instead? He tweeted a video. Perfect! He now has over 5 million followers, which is a good foundation and medium to leverage for reframing, for reaching 5 million prospects, for moving one step closer to the marketing throne.
I wish you luck, LeBron, and I think you are on your way. Now you just need to win some more rings. It’s as easy as that…
Keith Turco is president of gyro New York.