Gail Sideman Publicity


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LeBron, You’ve Got a (an ongoing) PR Problem

There are so many great story lines from the recent National Basketball Association postseason, and I have little doubt that the Association and 2011 champion Dallas Mavericks are celebrating in big ways.

Then there’s LeBron. He needs no last name. His basketball career has been documented since puberty. And that’s probably why he says and does things at which we can only shake our heads. Did he physically hurt anyone? No. Did he commit a crime? No. Did he make people mad? Yes…a few (million).

LeBron James used to be a well-liked lad. He was heralded the second coming of Michael Jordan. The player who tattooed “King” on his arm and created the Twitter handle @KingJames was to attract millions to events and sell millions of dollars in merchandise. Then there was “The Decision.” A free-agent and hometown hero, James decided to leave Cleveland last summer. He said so on a choreographed television show before he informed Cavaliers’ owner, Dan Gilbert, that he was taking his talents to South Beach. The result: throughout the 2010-2011 season, James was booed during road games, NBA fans reveled in his team’s early-season troubles and his name continued to be associated with arrogance and selfishness.

The fact is, he did nothing wrong…legally. James was a free agent and that meant he was free to play anywhere and with whom he wanted. He chose the Miami Heat to help create a roster of superstars.

The rule he broke was one of modesty-in-celebrity. He didn’t sound humble last summer. He came off as bitter and immature when he and Dwayne Wade made fun of Dirk Nowitski’s virus during the Finals, and again Sunday night during a post-game press conference after the Mavericks won the NBA title on the Heat’s home court.

His play, sans some fourth quarter shortcomings during the Mavericks’ series, isn’t what keeps social media types dissing his play and one-uppance over the world. It’s “The Decision.” It’s the comments made Sunday. It’s his defense that his construed condescending comments Sunday may have been slanted by the media. As writer Matt Moore wrote, few people will pay attention to James’ comment Tuesday that he was simply disappointed with his performance.

This isn’t just James’ problem. Part of it lies within the Heat organization. USA TODAY columnist Mike Lopresti suggested that James AND his team need to rework their PR plans. I agree. The public can relate to excitement, but organizations must realize that along with big-stage proclamations, there are responsibilities that last more than one night.

As you may have expected, I documented some simple tips that James and the Heat might consider to help repair their brands. The first is from ESPN’s Dick Vitale, who on Twitter, suggested that James remove the “King” tag from his branding and if he is to ever be called that, let fans dish the label. Others include:

• Play ball and be quiet. Winning won’t change everybody’s mind, but if the public sees dedication to improved play on the court and less flash off of it, they’ll be more apt to support to the Heat.

• To LeBron: Engage professional publicity and PR help. You need to start over in the image department.

• Talk with basketball fans, not to or about them. Engage; show humility and humanity.

• Own up to errors. Don’t make excuses or point fingers. Take the blame for statement miscues and people will appreciate the honesty.

• Don’t whine

Of course you must have willing participants for any of these to work successfully.

I’d love to see what others have to add.

Public relations is ongoing, and requires time, effort and truth. In these days of multi-media, if you challenge a crisis, you’ve got show a genuine heart and concerted effort to change. If you don’t, the public will see through phoniness, and image issues will continue.

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9 Responses

  1. I don’t think the Heat need to repair its image. They simply lost a big series. It happens. (If you’re the Knicks, it happens a lot – ZING!!). If LeBron left the Heat people wouldn’t hate the Heat. That tells me the Heat don’t need to repair the image. LeBron, on the other hand, needs to have a very quiet summer. Work on his game. Do a few charitable events (low-key) in South Florida and Akron. Work on his game some more. And if/when the NBA returns to play, LeBron needs to come to work and do just that. No TV shows; no predictions; no spotlight (including TV commercials showing him as the self-proclaimed best basketball player in the world).

    Yes, this might cause him to miss out on a few dollars. But what’s more important to LeBron – fixing his image, or being a business?


    1. Thanks for your comment, John. I do, however, think that the LeBron chaos has rubbed off on the Heat to a degree. When he and Dwayne Wade were recorded mocking Dirk Nowitski, it was a reflection on the club and its seeming inability to reign in the gloat that had become the Miami Heat. This is not the way Pat Riley operates and I’m sure he buried his head in his hands when he learned of this, especially if it was a made-for-media moment. The Heat is a team. It’s not LeBron and the Heat. The club needs an image revamp if only to remind the world that such is the case.

  2. Great post, Gail. I couldn’t agree more. It’s not just about hiring a publicist or creating a solid strategic PR plan. LeBron needs to genuinely want to change and work hard. We live in a land of forgiveness, but he has to take the first steps.

    1. I said as much last year when the world was ripping LeBron after “The Decision” aired. He didn’t seem to care in the aftermath. Will he now and make some changes? We’ll be here to watch!

      Thanks for weighing in, Katrina.

      1. I think the question is does it matter to him? Right now it really doesn’t seem like it does and no PR person can truly help him with that attitude. Of course I think it does matter and it should matter to his team and his teammates. I hope his attitude changes going into next season.

  3. I think the mocking Dirk situation was an isolated incident. Shame on Dwayne for partaking (and I bet he regrets it now). I whole-heatedly believe that if LeBron went away tomorrow people wouldn’t hate on the Heat.


    1. Agree. Without LeBron, I think the Heat would gain thousands of fans. Unfortunately, what does that say about this ONE player?

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