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The LeBron Brand—Just Freakin’ Do It!

Sports and branding: I am passionate about the former and I love to consult with my clients on the latter. So I can’t help but be fixated on the recent buzz pertaining to LeBron James and the so-called “hit” on his brand equity ever since he made, in my opinion, the ill-advised television special to announce he was switching from his hometown team to the Miami Heat.

To set some context for those of you who have no idea what I am talking about—LeBron James, the all star player formerly of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and probably the most celebrated basketball star since Michael Jordan, went on national television in July and announced that, as a free agent, he was leaving the team that drafted him seven years ago. In his mind, joining the Miami franchise with a few other all stars already in place, would give him the best chance to win an NBA championship.

Now I’m cool with athletes switching teams when they are free agents. Happens all the time and it is the prerogative of any free agent to go where they feel most comfortable. But the manner in which he made the announcement made headlines all over the sports world­, and it was seen by many as a selfish and backstabbing move against his home state (he grew up and attended school in nearby Akron, Ohio). Here is a brief clip of the announcement:

Shortly thereafter, the backlash started. According to Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks, “LeBron’s brand will take a $1 billion hit, give or take a few bucks.” While that statement may be a slight exaggeration, a recent poll about LeBron by the Q Score company—the Q Score is a measurement of the familiarity and appeal of a brand, company, celebrity, or television show used in the United States­—shows LeBron’s popularity rating has plummeted since his announcement and is currently below the average sports celebrity.

But I found it really interesting to see how Nike, a key LeBron sponsor, took the opportunity to not only come to his aid in what appears to be an attempt to help him repair some of his brand image, but also make sure they are protecting one of their biggest assets. Weiden & Kennedy did the spot and I personally love it. It is somewhat bold, in your face, and guaranteed to grab attention—just like Nike always does.

Now I can’t say that this ad will start the path to brand rating recovery (although I think it is great for Nike), but considering what other elite athletes have done over the years­—adultery, domestic violence, using banned and illicit substances—this sports fan gives LeBron credit for staying clean and living by his sponsor’s famous tag “just do it.” Yeah, he made a mistake in how he delivered his decision to move on. But I believe his success on the court will ultimately define his brand which I am sure will be memorable and plenty lucrative, to say the least.

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