Lessons from LeBron

We’ve already discussed what LeBron James’ decision to leave the Miami Heat means for downtown Miami, but what can we learn from the way King James announced his decision to return home?

We all remember the moment when LeBron announced, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” live on ESPN — and the outrage that followed.

While Miami celebrated, it was a very different scene in Cleveland, where fans were left reeling. The announcement generated an international backlash.

When you take a step back, James’ approached both announcements with the goal of using the media to tell his story. Yet any casual observer would agree that the two episodes felt wholly different.

LeBron James

Our team here at Soundbytes has analyzed LeBron’s announcements  and we’ve extracted the following lessons:

1) Relationships reign supreme: LeBron’s team carefully selected Lee Jenkins, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, to reveal the news of the King’s Cleveland homecoming. This was no accident. James was understandably comfortable with Jenkins safeguarding his secret and communicating his story to the world. Jenkins earned this trust — in part — by nominating LeBron for 2013 SI’s “Sportsman of the Year,” with an essay stating that his “redemption was complete.” Given the 2010 ESPN Decision debacle, James’ camp had every reason to gift Sports Illustrated with the scoop. When the time came to select who would tell the story, the choice was clear.

2) How you tell a story matters: James’ announcements in 2010 and 2014 were similar in that they were both disclosing details about his basketball future. But the parallels end there. The 2010 reveal was devoid of context. It was a basketball decision. There was no rationale, no emotion. Miami offered the best opportunity to win championships, plain and simple.

The 2014 announcement — at least the way it was presented to the world — was more about home than hoops. James’ essay went on and on about his community work in Cleveland, what his hometown fan base means to him, and what it would mean to bring a trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

3) Print media leaves more to the imagination: The Decision that aired on ESPN, while a ratings hit, was a contrived media circus. We were forced to watch James on screen as he nervously — almost sheepishly — faced the nation. It was a low point for the basketball star and ESPN.

This year’s announcement, communicated via a written essay, marked a 180-degree departure from 2010’s infomercial. It was personal, reflective and thoughtful. It was forward-looking, focused more on family than fans. There was no video, no visual uneasiness; only words on a page that triggered visions of LeBron giving back and spending time with relatives in Akron.

To read the full inside story on how LeBron James chose to reveal his choice, read more at Deadspin.