Can LeBron’s Brand Stand the Heat?


It is over. LeBron James will be playing for the Miami Heat. It’s a decision that has made the NBA star many enemies, including some in New York who, over the weekend, booed James as he attended fellow NBA star Carmelo Anthony’s wedding.

Now, the manner with which LeBron went along with the orchestration of “the decision” announcement as a circus sideshow has resulted in many asking if he severely damaged his brand, from the professional (“The Brand That Crossed The Line“) to our “LeBron James Diminishes Brand Power” to the not-so-professional (“Is the Lebron James Brand Sh*t now?“).

But the LeBron brand is as strong as ever, it has just morphed. Think of this as King James Version 2.0.[more]
You have to admire what LeBron has accomplished with his brand. In just a month, LeBron went from seemingly-humble and noble hometown hero to national heel, from Luke Skywalker to Darth Vader. But “evil” is still a brand and it can sell. LeBron may soon find himself in the personal brand company of Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, despised by many but respected for his all-star play nonetheless. It’s entirely possible this is LeBron’s intention, to add some darkness to his persona. Indeed, bad or good, no position is worse for a brand than the apathetic everything-to-everyone middle.

What LeBron should be concerned about is his international ambitions. James has publicly stated that he aims to be a “global brand.” While winning championships will help accomplish that, he should be aware that the “bad boy” angle doesn’t play as well oversees, where the Michael Jordan paradigm still applies.

At the end of the day though, “it’s the play, stupid.” The only way LeBron can truly diminish his brand is to start playing mediocre basketball. If LeBron in Miami is as dominant as LeBron in Cleveland, he will find an audience, as winners always do. Just look at the Yankees.

There is one sure winner brand in all of this though, the NBA. If all attention is good attention, then the NBA brand stands ready to reap the benefits of all the controversy. While ratings for this season’s Celtics-Lakers finals games were way up, viewers overall were less interested in the playoffs, and the season on whole was worryingly flat for growth. But if the selection process ratings are anything to go by, look for the Miami Heat games to drive record NBA audiences. Audiences love watching a hero, but they love watching a villain more.

Now, where’s Brett Favre?

More on LeBron’s brand potential in this PBS Nightly Business Report:

Watch the full episode. See more Nightly Business Report.


(Top image shows Cleveland fans burning LeBron jerseys.)