Marketing & Branding

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.

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