The re-branding of LeBron James begins with first NBA title
June 22, 2012
LeBron James won the Bill Russell Trophy as NBA Finals MVP and led the Miami Heat to the NBA championship, coming out of the 2011-’12 season a different player than he was coming in.
James was unquestionably the difference in clinching the best-of-seven NBA Finals in five games, scoring 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in a dominant triple-double en route to a decisive 121-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder Thursday night at the American Airlines Arena in Miami.
Although he’ll almost certainly continue to be a polarizing figure among both hard core NBA fans and casual sports fans, the championship will help James silence at least those critics who failed to embrace him as a full-fledged superstar because he had yet to win an NBA title.
“Superb television ratings, airline arena sponsorship and the emergence of the small-market Oklahoma City Thunder were all strong sport business storylines during the NBA Finals, but none is more important than the re-branding of LeBron James,” said sport business commentator Tom Mayenknecht, host of The Sport Market on TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto, TEAM 1040 in Vancouver and nationally online at TSN.ca/radio and teamradio.ca. “He truly appears to have matured both on and off the court and it’s paid off with his first NBA title and a much-deserved MVP nod for stepping up the way he did during the Finals and throughout the playoffs.”
Mayenknecht, a former NBA executive with both the Toronto Raptors and the relocated Vancouver Grizzlies, has been among the many critics of James, largely for the manner in which he handled his free agency and departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers. His signing with the Miami Heat – in which he and Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors joined Dwyane Wade at American Airlines Arena – was announced in a choreographed television special on ESPN, upsetting fans in his home state of Ohio and souring millions of NBA fans throughout the United States and Canada.
The LeBron James brand was not helped in last year’s NBA Finals, in which the Heat came up short against the Dallas Mavericks.
“CNBC’s Darren Rovell noted last night that although LeBron has maintained many of the same handlers who helped orchestrate The Decision two summers ago, he appears to have changed his approach to the business of being an NBA superstar and it showed again during the Finals,” said Mayenknecht. “He was not only more decisive and effective on the court, he was more gracious and professional off the court. I would suggest we’re witnessing the beginning of the rebranding of LeBron James, ushered in by the impact of what it means to him and his place in the game as a championship winner.”
The win seemed to have an immediate impact on how James communicated to NBA fans after the match.
“I made a difficult decision to leave Cleveland but I understood what my future was about, I understood coming to Miami….I knew we had a bright future and this is a dream come true for me,” he said. “I grew a lot the last two years but this is a way it definitely pays off.”
James acknowledged the biting criticism he’s endured since leaving the Cavaliers: “That’s the only thing that bothered me, that a lot of people said I was a selfish person, a selfish basketball player. I strive on being a team player, doing whatever it takes to help this team win. But at the same time, I used it as motivation. I’m happy that I was able to make enough plays to put ourselves into a position to win this championship.”
He added: “The fact that I have a family, a fiancée, two kids, supporting cast, supporting family – it took me to go all the way to the top and then hit rock bottom, basically, to realize what I needed to do as a professional athlete and as a person."
The win also showed up in a Friday morning tweet from James, who had taken a self-imposed hiatus from Twitter during the NBA playoffs. His first tweet since winning the NBA title and MVP trophy was: “I love you guys. This was for you.”
The tweet was accompanied by a video to his fans in which James said: “I’m at a loss of words right now. I want to shout-out (to) my fans. I know I haven’t been with you all the last couple of months. I think April 27th was the last time I sent out a Tweet. I want you all to know that I just wanted to get as focused as possible on this championship run. As you can see, I am a champion. Without you guys, it wouldn’t have been possible. You guys stuck with me throughout the whole playoffs. You guys stuck with me through the last couple of years and thank you guys so much. You guys share this championship with me and this MVP trophy with me. Love you guys and I am back.”
As Toronto Star NBA basketball reporter Doug Smith wrote last night: “(The) Heat tried to play an ‘us against the world’ game that didn’t work a year ago. This year, they were more composed and quiet, more businesslike and less confrontational and were rewarded with the second title in Heat history.”
TheSportMarket.biz with files from Doug Smith of TheStar.com and Jeff Zilgitt of USA Today.