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3 Ways to Learn from LeBron James and Avoid a Personal Branding Disaster

Being out of touch with reality will destroy your personal brand. Don’t believe me? Just look at LeBron James. Last year ago at this time he was one of the world’s most revered athletes, and now he is one of the most reviled. He went from loved to loathed, from heralded to hated, plus however many more clichéd alliterations you can conjure up.

That’s what happens when you make one disastrous public relations mistake after the next. How did LeBron destroy his personal brand? Let’s count the ways.

Personal Branding Tip #1:

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

The first step in LeBron’s downward spiral was “The Decision,” or as I like to call it, “LeBron’s Narcissistic Hour of Love.” This topic has been beaten to death, so to keep it short, imagine dumping your longtime significant other (Cleveland Cavaliers) for a hot new model (Miami Heat) on an hour long national TV special, then not understanding why your ex is mad at you. Needless to say, LeBron and his new team instantly became the most polarizing team in the league. Sure, he got attention, but not without stepping all over the people who got him there.

Personal Branding Tip #2:

Don’t write checks with your mouth that the other end can’t cash.

LeBron’s next mishap was the pep rally a few days later to celebrate his move to Miami. Holding a pep rally for professional athletes making hundreds of millions of dollars is preposterous to begin with, but LeBron had the gall to predict at least seven NBA championships. Well, eleven months later, thanks to the Dallas Mavericks, LeBron is 0-for-2 in the NBA finals. What does that tell you? It’s not wise to let a pompous attitude take over, no matter how confident you are. You’ll end up looking like a fool.

Personal Branding Tip #3:

Don’t let your ego swell to the point of madness. You’ll alienate your supporters.

The first two instances were shocking, but to me, nothing is as appalling as what he said to the media right after he lost the finals:

“At the end of the day, all the people that’s rooting on me to fail, they gotta wake up to the same life they had before they woke up today. They got the same personal problems they had, today. And I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live, and continue to do the things I want to do for me and my family and be happy with that.”

If you don’t speak jerk, that meant, “I’m rich and famous. You’re not, so I’m better than you.” If you could stand LeBron before, then I hope you’re coming around now. He has a terminal case of foot-in-mouth disease! Sports fans can be tolerant of spoiled athletes, but there has to be a point when enough is enough. For me, that point is LeBron James. Maybe in the long run, the public could have forgiven him for his lack of awareness with his “Decision,” but now he let his true feelings show. He clearly has no respect for the jilted fans (especially in Cleveland, because they aren’t exactly a high-income fan base) that used to love him unconditionally, only mockery. Did he forget that these are the same fans who bought tickets to see him, bought his shoes, and made him ridiculous amounts of money? Way to stay classy, LeBron. Whatever you do with your personal brand, make sure you don’t follow in his footsteps. Your supporters probably won’t stick around if you blatantly insult them!

LeBron James managed to completely tarnish his “brand” that took seven years in the NBA to build, but he just doesn’t seem to get it. There is no way this incident won’t harm him in the long run. Even if he ends up being one of the all-time greats, will anyone even like him? Will anyone want to hear anything he has to say? Will there be a career after basketball? For all-time greats, there are tens of millions to be made after retirement. If he doesn’t grow up, show some humility, and get in touch with reality, that simply won’t be there for him. The same goes for any personal brand; there’s no sure-fire way to avoid mistakes, but you’ll have a much better shot if you act like a reasonable adult instead of like a spoiled six-year-old.

What do you think about LeBron’s obvious disinterest in tact and decency? How else has he crumbled the foundation of his personal brand?

Image Credits


Jeff Porretto

Recently dethroned as the shortest member of the blogsquad, Jeff considers himself to be an artist in all facets of life. Be it playing or building guitars, writing blogs with scathing dry wit, or simply finding new ways to be productive, creativity is a central focus of his day. More than anything, Jeff likes to spend time at home with his wife and 2 dogs quietly enjoying their time together. As with many other members of the blog squad, Jeff is fascinated by the latest and greatest technologies. He is also a self-professed Air Jordan addict and is willing to talk about shoes at any time. You can connect with Jeff on Google+.

Comments

  1. cyberneticSAM

    This article brings up excellent points. I, however, didn’t before today realize how removed from sports issues I really am. All this drama that seems apparent seems no different than all the drama men seem to think that women bring to the table in other regards. Between modern politics and sports, men are on both accounts way more sensitive and melodramatic. There is a lot of narcissism and drama in sports and politics, more so it makes Desperate Housewives look like they need to do a spinoff of sports guys. We’ll call it “Big Baby Ballers” ha! j/k. Good post, though!

    • JPorretto

      Let make no mistake here, this is a Love story gone horribly, horribly wrong. LeBron grew up in Ohio and promised a championship to a City that has had no professional champions since 1964….. then bolted. Cleveland fans predictably had that “left at the altar” after effect that rivals any bride.

  2. Vern-Matic

    Wow really good read, I was not a fan nor did I despise the man until I heard the last press conference that you mention in the last point, now he is just a jerk!!!

    You have to be very careful w/your personal brand especially today where everyone has a camera phone synced to their Youtube account

    • JPorretto

      I didn’t like him before, but now…. oh my goodness. My jaw actually dropped when I heard him say that.

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    Great post, Jeff! Every one of your points rings true. When it comes to personal branding, LeBron seems to have broken every important rule in the book. As you know, I don’t follow the wide world of sports, but after reading this, even I can say that this guy “effed” up. Talk about turning away your fan base!

    Actually, the decline of the LeBron brand reminds me of the recent downfall of another personal brand (one that rhymes with “Ortzeneggar”), though obviously for different reasons.

    • JPorretto

      I actually think this is worse than, AH-Nold, or even Tiger Woods (though not as embarrassing). In those cases, the ones scorned were individuals, not entire rabid fan bases. The day after LeBron left Cleveland, the Cavaliers dropped the price of LeBron’s Jersey to 17.41… the year that Benedict Arnold was born.

      • cyberneticSAM

        Haha! that is pretty funny! (the jersey thing, not what he did). :)

      • Amanda

        I see what you’re saying here Jeff, and I agree somewhat. These recent cheating men destroy more than just their wives. It hurts the entire family, and negatively affects their name and brand forever also. And I think a lot of democrats can’t see Mr. Weiner in the same light as before either, that whole mess is such a shame.

        What is with all of these famous men lately!? Sheesh. =(

  4. Jill Tooley

    What a pretentious ass! I didn’t know the full extent of this guy’s jerkiness, so thanks for explaining it for sports dummies like yours truly! ;)

    Here’s another take away from good old LeBron: Nothing lasts forever – including your positive image. He may be making imperial crap tons of money right now, but what happens when no one cares about him anymore? Stunts like this draw attention to him, but for how long? Even if you manage to build your personal brand to its peak, you have to WORK to maintain that…otherwise it’ll come crashing down fast. James reminds me a bit of Dennis Rodman at his peak – mouthy and arrogant with a touch of that foot-in-mouth syndrome you mentioned. What’s he doing now, anyway?

    Great post!

  5. Amy

    Wow, I heard murmurings of what he had done in his past but not to this extent! I once again wonder what gives athletes the right to trample on those who got them to where they are. Certainly not all of them do this, but it seems the good guys are in the minority.

    Great and thorough post Jeff!! :) Glad I finally heard the full story about him and his past!

    • JPorretto

      Thanks Amy! I’m just spreading the word. I don’t even need to spin it. The facts are damning enough.

    • Amanda

      I feel the same way Amy. I don’t follow sports besides watching a few football games every year, so I didn’t know the details either. But man does this blog post help me form an opinion about Mr. James. And whoa–that last long quote of his is ridiculous! I want to say it shocked me, but I’m not totally surprised, lots of famous people get that cocky.

  6. Jana Quinn

    As much as I’d love to join in on the LeBron James bashing (mainly for reason number two you listed above), there is one thing that should be cleared up.

    LeBron James didn’t come up with the idea for “The Decision.” Behind-the-scenes suits developed it.

    Source: http://bit.ly/mHAAqO

    Also, even if he had, the event also raised $2.5 million for the Boys and Girls Club. So though it appeared self-serving (and certainly was, in part), it’s not like LeBron came up with this idea and demanded it in a diva fit that benefited no one but himself. Maybe the lesson to be learned here is that there should have been an emphasis on the charity fundraising within the program in order to make it seem less arrogant.

    As far as lasting flack goes, I think all will be forgiven if Miami wins next year. After all, the two quarterbacks in this year’s Super Bowl were a rapist and a murderer, and nobody without a PETA card batted an eye.

    • Tony Promo

      It doesn’t matter if the suits came up with it or not. He either thought it was a good idea, or was convinced to believe so. At the end of the day, he was on that ESPN special and if he was a “real” hero, nobody would have mentioned the $2.5 that went to charity, which was an obvious distraction away from the fact that he’s a total ass. If he hasn’t realized it by now, he has HORRIBLE management and could really benefit from not bringing his high school cronies with him everywhere he goes.

      At one point during the design phase of his seventh signature Nike sneaker, Tinker Hatfield (the god of sneakerheads… designed the first several Air Jordans and many other classic shoes) actually had to tell him to either get rid of his “management team” (his friends), or find someone else to design his shoe. People keep talking about how young he is, but he’s been in the league for the better part of a decade, so it’s nobody’s fault but his.

      • Jana Quinn

        At the end of the day, a ton of money went to charity. He could have read out of the phone book for an hour for all I care.

        I’m not defending the fact that he’s acting like an arrogant thug. However, when all is said and done, the HEAT is paying him for playing good basketball, and sports fans will pay for tickets and don’t care much about the personality/personal lives of the stars as long as they keep winning. If he starts doing things to piss off the Heat managers, that’s where he’s going to suffer from poor brand management issues.

        • JPorretto

          I will never say that anything donated to charity is a bad thing, but this was the biggest unmitigated PR disaster ever for a upper echelon professional athlete. ESPN was even embarrassed for hosting it, and nothing embarrasses them. That single moment was the start of where all the hate began, and that is undeniable.

          A year and a half later, Tiger Woods has been largely forgiven, and he hasn’t won anything since the bomb dropped. The LeBron hate is growing ever stronger.

          Sure the Heat are paying him his salary, but that’s probably not even half of his income. He needs to keep up his image across the country for endorsements. And he’s failing miserably right now…

    • JPorretto

      #1) Did you watch “The Decision?” It was a disgusting hour long LeBron infomercial for something that can be done with a press release. The whole charity thing was a guise to give it a purpose. If he wants to raise money for kids, there’s a million other ways to do it rather than an hour long look at me special.

      #2) The “Suits” are all his friends and teammates from high school. I don’t care if he didn’t come up with it, he went along with it.

      #3) Jim Gray (The interviewer for “The Decision” and writer of the book you linked to) was hand picked and paid by LeBron’s “suits” to lob soft-ball questions and paint him in a positive light. He has next to no credibility in the sports journalism field anymore.

      #4) I don’t remember Aaron Rodgers- the Super Bowl MVP QB – murdering anyone or anything (Unless we’re talking about the Bears defense).

      • Jana Quinn

        1) I didn’t watch “The Decision.” And you know what? The money still went to charity. People are bitching about a one hour special THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO WATCH. I don’t know how picky we should be about HOW athletes raise money for charity.

        3) Good thing I wasn’t using Jim Gray as a sports journalist reference; I was simply showing a source that demonstrated LeBron hadn’t come up with the idea itself.

        4) This was totally my mistake. I was thinking of Michael Vick who – while not a quarterback in the Super Bowl – had plenty of love and attention this season despite his violent crime conviction.

        http://bit.ly/egwpBi

        Oh, yeah, and zing on the Bears fans.

  7. JPorretto

    Actually, Dennis Rodman got away with all of it, because he didn’t try to pretend he was a nice, humble guy all the time. He was just at a bulls game a few months ago to celebrate his being elected to the Hall of Fame, and he got a standing ovation.

    • cyberneticSAM

      Yes! I had a Rodman jersey when I was a kid the few short years I acutally watched b-ball and I LOVED D-ROD!

      • Amanda

        I had a Rodman jersey too! It was the black one, I loved that thing! I may still have it packed away somewhere.

  8. Tony Promo

    OOOH! Nothing makes my blood boil (at the moment) like that comment you quoted from the press conference!

    From that comment, I extrapolated “Tomorrow, I’m going to wake up as LeBron James, the internationally famous multi-millionaire basketball superstar, and you’ll wake up as the same loser you were the day before”.

    First and foremost, I didn’t wake up yesterday with millions of people hating me around the world. I didn’t wake up yesterday embarrassed because I held a ceremony before the season began to welcome the big 2.5 to Miami, pyrotechnics and all, and still didn’t win a title despite my guarantees and promises. I didn’t wake up yesterday unable to return to my hometown (not to mention Cleveland) due to their unbridled, passionate hatred of me not just as a basketball player, but as a person. I also never worked anywhere where one of my co-workers slept with my mother. And last but not least, I didn’t wake up yesterday after averaging around four points in the 4th quarter for an entire NBA finals series, not to mention pulling off the biggest drop in point average from the regular season to the playoffs/finals in NBA history (-9 pts per game!).

    So, needless to say, I woke up yesterday and went to work like I normally do from 7 to 6, sans the fame and millions of dollars, but still hating Lebron for being a first class a-hole, and guess what?

    I’M PERFECTLY OKAY WITH THAT.

    • LK

      “Like” (thumbs-up-facebook-style)

    • JPorretto

      (CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP) If I were going to write another blog about this subject, I would’ve CTRL+C –> CTRL+V this comment and credit you.

  9. Lgroce

    As a player in the NBA if I ever hear the Michael Jordan-Lebron James discussion before Lebron wins at least 4 championships I will puke. However, Lebron and Jordan do have something in common. They are thought of as some of the biggest jerks in sports history. If you ever read The Jordan Rules you will understand. Jordan would yell, scream, cuss-out and fight anyone who stood in his way of a title including his own teammates and coaches. Michael though had an excellent brand image with hundreds of endorsements and everyone wanting to “Be Like Mike”. How did he do it? He didn’t hold press conferences to announce he was switching teams (just retire) and he didn’t call out the fans that showed him so much love and support. Jordan’s passion, skill and will to win is why people loved him and at times Lebron fails to show these attributes. Add that to bashing your own fans and paying customers and your brand image will collapse from underneath you.

    • JPorretto

      Agreed, Jordan could be a jerk. But never to the fans…. never to the fans….

      There’s the difference right there.

  10. Bobby Billy Joey

    He ain’t nuttin’! The greatest hoop ball player of all-time is Lucious Harris, and you know this, Jeff! The only good thing Lebro’s ever done was that commercial, where he plays a whole family of jerks. That commercial always makes the kids in my ‘hood run around the house, slappin’ each other on the rear ends.

    • JPorretto

      My boy Lucious!

      The Kobe/ LeBron puppets were pretty funny too…

  11. JPorretto

    Oh look, LeBron is back tracking from his comments. Never would’ve guessed that was about to happen:

    http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory?id=13839484

    • Jill Tooley

      I figured as much. You can’t blame him for at least TRYING to smooth things over; although, who knows if he’s serious or not.

  12. lizzie

    dude. right? of course, initially, i was freaking out about the bulls being in the playoffs and we watched every game they played against the heat for sure. then the bulls lost and all i cared about was watching SOMEONE from the Mavs knocking out LeBron’s effing teeth. i wanted them to lose and be embarrassed and be bloody and humble especially because they put together this “dream team” by screwing everyone over and STILL lost.

    i might sound more than bitter, ha…but i’m from ohio, lived until 2 years ago in chicago and now live in dallas, so i had a little bit emotionally invested in the game.

    • JPorretto

      Wow! It’s like this series was just made for you! I think the Mavs became everyone’s favorite team outside of South Florida for a few weeks (Cleveland had that “Cavs for Mavs” thing going).

      I’ll be thankful to them forever now for simply ruining LeBaby’s season…

  13. JPorretto

    The Peoria Chiefs minor league baseball team are having some hilarious fun at LeBron’s expense:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/chicago/mlb/news/story?id=6661570

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