In the fall of 2010 following “The Decision: Part I,” LeBron James paraded around NBA cities with a chip on his shoulder, playing the role of villain everywhere he went. Night in and night out, he relished hearing boos from the crowd . He sought to prove that, despite being reviled throughout the country, he could still successfully climb the mountain and sit atop the throne – the throne of King James, NBA champion.
As it turns out though, LeBron didn’t really relish hearing those boos. In fact, the “LeBron as villain” brand always felt out of character for him. He soon regretted the way he spurned his hometown of Cleveland with his summer 2010 public announcement. That misstep critically injured the high-and-mighty LeBron brand and reduced the player to just another self-involved athlete who, unaware of his surroundings, disappointed the myriad children in Ohio who looked up to him.
Now, 4-years later, LeBron returns to Cleveland. But long before this announcement was made, LeBron had begun to repair his blemished brand image. To do this, he drew attention to his determination, which he said was responsible for leading the Miami Heat to four consecutive NBA finals and two championships. He highlighted his infectious smile that he’d brandished throughout his career. He hopes his fans will forgive.
James’ story isn’t unique. Even the strongest of brands are susceptible to quick drops in their equity due to public relations disasters. (Just ask CEO Mary Barra, who is diligently working to repair GM’s image, following its ignition-switch debacle .) But, brands can climb their way back from mistakes through hard work, diligence and consistent messaging, eventually growing even stronger than before.
The LeBron brand journey still has a long way to go, and James has clearly learned from his blunder, recognizing that it will take time and consistency to revitalize his brand’s equity. In his “The Decision: Part II” announcement, LeBron closed with new-found self-awareness he’d lacked four years prior: “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”