It was 9:27 p.m. on July 8, 2010 that redefined Greenwich Mean Time, as that was the time LeBron James changed his brand meaning and kicked Clevelanders in their nether regions with malice on a nationally televised unspectacular spectacle from the Connecticut suburb.
Best described as "The Day The Earth Stood Still," "The Decision" drew nearly 10 million viewers and had citizens of six cities collectively holding their breath while the rest of the nation sat transfixed. It was a moment far beyond sports, with the best and worst of reality shows, Idols, every Super Bowl party, and all presidential elections, all wrapped up in one hour-long infomercial for the cult of personality and celebrity obsession run amok.
George W. Bush dubbed himself "The Decider." Now, LeBron has grabbed that title. He's also called "The King." We should check if that's merely a nickname or if we in fact serve as LeBron's subjects in a reign of capriciousness and self-involvement.
Which brings us to LeBron the brand. What is his brand meaning and where does it go?
As the nation's leading agency in the practice of positioning, Innis Maggiore cares more about the brand meaning than the player. And it may very well be that the brand has jumped the shark on the way to South Beach.
LeBrand's position has been what we can best describe as "Great But Grounded." Unprecedented talent, yet grounded by his hometown, his Mom, his nice guy persona. His brand meaning seemed to be set.
Lately, King James' brand meaning has shown its first signs of slipping, with the public characterizing him in the following ways:
Egoist (crediting only himself for his success plus the whole "Decision" circus).
Selfish (not playing for the team, but to advance his ambitions).
Quitter (in the playoffs; from his team; away from his hometown).
The first two are common, but the third does not define a healthy brand meaning. LeBron's shutdown in the last few games of the 2010 playoffs was an embarrassment, with the complete dive at the end of his final game in a Cleveland uniform a shocking display. Let's just say that if LeBron had a Pete Rose haircut, you'd even speculate that he had Vegas money riding on the other team.
The future brand meaning of LeBron James is TBD, as in "Great But _______." If it becomes "Great But A Quitter," that's not a good brand position.
With two other high profile "free" agents as teammates, expectations attached to LeBron are too high for anyone to satisfy. The folks and the media are poised to take down the next super celeb (tigeritus woodsarius), and without back-to-back-to-back-to-back championships, that will be LeBron. And LeBrand. (Though it would take a truly bizarre and extraordinary chain of events for his Q Score to drop near Michael Lohan territory.)
Of course, he could take greater control over his brand meaning. AsChicago Tribune media reporter Phil Rosenthal pointed out, James should have leveraged new media and the mostly dormant LeBronJames.com website. Taken further, perhaps James should have been truly dramatic by announcing on his own pay-per-stream that he would sit out the next season until the NBA ceded him sole rights to game telecasts on LeBronJames.com, which he would then license back to the league for King-size royalties. Tweeters could vote for plays as the game happens (presumably, "giving up" not being one of the popular options). A Hulu-like LeBron Channel could showcase his favorite movies, shows, Miami hot spots, and music (presumably not Jay-Z).
If only he thought big.
Until then, LeBrand remains the next great mystery. He has the money, the talent, and the showcase. But, will he build the right brand meaning? For instance, rather than endorsing a vehicle a là Tiger, he could actually have his own limited edition sportster named after him, extending the brand meaning.
One thing we already know is that this is all more important than the war, the Gulf disaster, and the economy put together. Oh, and that LeBron's shot hurt Clevelanders more than Michael Jordan's. At least that one was above the belt.