LeBron James’s decision to take his talents somewhere else was disclosed perfectly this time, public relations executives said.
The four-time National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player said in a bylined article on Sports Illustrated’s website yesterday that he’ll leave the Miami Heat and rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown franchise where he played his first seven NBA seasons.
“I feel my calling here goes above basketball,” he said in the article. “I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from.”
In 2010, he disclosed his move to Miami as a free agent by saying “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach” in an hour-long, nationally televised event called “The Decision.” It was widely criticized at the time.
This time, James wrote that there would be no press conference or party. “After this, it’s time to get to work.”
Former NBA Commissioner David Stern, who stepped down in February, in an e-mail called James’s method this time “spot on,” and PR executives agreed.
“It hit all the right notes that you want from an icon like James,” said Jason Maloni, who heads the sports and entertainment practice at Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm Levick. “Genuine, authentic and, most of all, it’s teeing him up for almost a fairytale chapter of his career.”
James led the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals, where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. The Heat reached the finals in each of his four years in Miami, winning championships in 2012 and 2013. The Spurs again won the title in June, beating James and the Heat 4-1 in the best-of-seven matchup.
James, a 29-year-old who entered the NBA straight out of high school, said in his letter yesterday that his four-year stint in Miami “has been almost like college for other kids.”
James’s endorsement partners, such as Nike Inc. (NKE), Coca-Cola Co. (KO) and McDonalds Corp. (MCD), will benefit from the message of James’s letter, even though he opted to play basketball in Cleveland, a less visible market than Miami, according to David Johnson, chief executive officer of Suwanee, Georgia-based public relations firm Strategic Vision LLC.
“He scored a home run with this from a marketing standpoint,” Johnson said in a telephone interview. “His statement comes across as sincere and believable and that helps his brand reputation.”
The decision also rewarded the Ohioans who kept faith in James after he left in 2010, Maloni said.
“Returning home is a story as old as Shakespeare and Plato,” Maloni said. “It’s a wonderful narrative and he seems to have heard the concerns from his exit, and didn’t want to make those mistakes again.”
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