Perhaps the most brilliant branding move from a professional athlete ever was LeBron James’s noble decision to go home.
No, people, that’s not a mirage ahead, that’s Cleveland, Ohio. And that is King James standing in the middle.
4 years, 4 consecutive Finals appearances, and 2 Championships later, King James announced last week in a compelling Sports Illustrated essay that he’s going home because his “relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball.”
James’s worshipers and critics, alike, cannot help but admit that this free-agency chess move puts every other franchise in checkmate.
And not because Cleveland is suddenly a hands-down favorite to win it all next year; in my opinion, the Knicks and the Bulls are as equipped as the Cavs to win the East. This is a checkmate because LeBron’s homecoming decision, in one fell swoop, caused a Miami Heat Twitter-follower exodus, made Vegas change next season’s NBA Finals odds, and turned his public image from satan to savior.
Never before has the LeBron Brand been more touted.
As sports experts, writers, fans, or just Twitter thugs whose rants lack logic or tact, we tend to hold athletes to some ridiculously unattainable standard of perfection. In our eyes, they shouldn’t make bad decisions, or in LeBron’s case, they shouldn’t make any “Decisions.” They better sink that buzzer beater every single time. In high-adrenaline situations, they must speak the words that we feel are most appropriate. Their values should identically reflect our own. And their career moves? Well, they better damn well be in line with what we think they should do. Heaven forbid they aren’t.
And not to defend fanatical behavior, but I understand how we get caught up in senselessness. Our favorite athletes are gods to us. Think just for a moment about how mad you get at your God when He doesn’t move when you think He should move. #ButThatsNoneOfMyBusiness
This LeBron thing, though, is something worth getting worked up over. Yeah, Miami might barely be a contender for a playoff seed in the East, and yeeeah, casual Heat fans are jumping off the Miami ship and onto the Cavs bandwagon, and sure, Erik Spoelstra’s on the brink of having to prove he can successfully coach a team led by an over-paid Chris Bosh and an ailing, aging Dwyane Wade. And, nope, LeBron might not have lived up to the Heat franchise’s expectations by splitting, but by moral and ethical standards, he nailed it.
It’s inspiring that, in this age of bigger-than-life idols, a star like LeBron is choosing to take his shine back to small-town America. James’s homecoming is an uplifting reminder that in sports and in life, we have the freedom to leverage opportunities for the long-term benefit of our families. It’s promising to know that, no matter how far into the galaxy fame and fortune propels you, really, there’s no landing pad like home.
As the (fairly new) adage goes, “Bye, Haters,” because no matter whose jersey you sport on game day, it’s tough to root against a man whose vision of success includes bringing glory to his humble roots.