4 things communicators can learn from LeBron James’ Decision 2.0

LBJAs a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan, where LeBron James decided to take his talents last week was of little concern to me.

From a communications standpoint, it was a sight to see.

Unlike the debacle that was the original decision, James laid low until he was ready to announce, broke the news in a heart felt essay… and then left the country to watch the World Cup finals.

For communicators and other professionals that have to manage images, there’s much to learn from how it all went down.

1. Exclusives are a good thing

The story about how the essay came to be is almost as good as the essay itself. As a communicator, we live and die by the journalists that write about us. When you’ve cultivated a good relationship with a reporter, drop them an exclusive every once in a while. It’ll make them happy, it’ll make their editors happy. More importantly, it’ll make your clients happy.

2. Narrative, narrative, narrative

In “I’m Coming Home,” James portrays himself as a much more mature 29-year-old. But in just a couple short paragraphs, he paints a vivid picture of what Northeast Ohio means to him and his legacy:

Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.

Remember when I was sitting up there at the Boys & Girls Club in 2010? I was thinking, This is really tough. I could feel it. I was leaving something I had spent a long time creating. If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left. Miami…

You need to successfully tell your own story — or someone else will do it for you (as we saw in 2010, when James was painted as a step away from Satan).

3. When you’ve done wrong, offer to make it right.

One of the hardest things for brands or high profile individuals to do is offer a heart felt apology and offer to make amends. During a brief internship with a Las Vegas hotel, one of the  hallmarks of their customer service mission was making things right for guests after an error. While not admitting fault, James did empathize with Cleveland fans in his essay and offered to make things right the best way he knows how:

To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?


4. Follow through.

Okay, so this part hasn’t actually been written yet — but that is the true test. If James bolts from Cleveland again (his new deal is for two years), it will be a bigger blow to his legacy than the decision. And so it will be for your clients. If you make a lofty promise and fail to follow through (or at least make a valiant effort), you lose the public trust (i.e. politicians who make promises and fail to deliver).


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