by Megan Cotton
Last November in my blog I asked “Can LeBron Take The Heat?,” a response to the Nike “What Should I Do?” video meant to repair LeBron James’ broken image after his move to Miami and the much hated ESPN special, “The Decision.” In my opinion the commercial did its job, using pop culture and witty scenarios to ask basketball fans (excluding Cleveland fans, of course) to forgive him for his move and just let him play the game.
Who didn’t do his job, however, was James. After more than disappointing play in almost every 4th quarter of the NBA Finals, James couldn’t conjure up humility for a post-game interview when he said, “All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”
Yes, you can say he was disappointed and caught up in the heat of the moment but suggesting that everyone who doesn’t cheer for you has “personal problems” is a step too far. For a player this highly scrutinized, with a history of showing bad sportsmanship, it was all the critics needed to attack him.
So what should James’ next PR move be exactly? His sponsors, like Nike, have been quiet so far, but this season’s disappointment seems to be a bit more than a well-made, witty commercial can fix.
In a blog posted on CNBC, “LeBron James’ Marketing Might Never Recover,” writer Darren Rovell, suggested that even if James wins one (or several) NBA Championships his image may be too far gone to save.
“The only repair can come through championships—LeBron finally getting it done, Tiger beating Jack. But that doesn’t mean that Tiger or LeBron will get back to where they once were,” said Rovell. “Winning a title is important for LeBron James. But the right person getting through to him as to why he’s in this position to begin with, and for him to accept what they have to say, might be even more important.”
That’s really what it comes down to: people don’t want to see “the bad guy” win. They want humility and a heartwarming story wrapped up with that championship. Right now James is too far gone for people to want a moving story about him featured on ESPN but as a PR professional you have to believe that very few images are actually beyond repair.
In a previous Platform blog about Michael Vick’s rehabilitated image, Libby Page laid out a process professionals can use to transform public perspective. Vick showed genuine remorse, got involved in community service and let his work at practice and during games speak for his new ethics.
James should follow a similar path. He should show the public he’s sorry for his post-game comments and that he is disappointed in his 4th quarter play. He should get involved in his new community and show that he cares about Miami. After that, he should focus on basketball and work hard to achieve what he left Cleveland for, to win a championship.
By not feeding the media with negative comments and lackluster play, he won’t give critics anything to talk about. So, maybe forgiveness can come with time and with James learning humility and keeping his over-confident attitude reserved for games … including the 4th quarter.