Ever since the announcement was made in July that LeBron James would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, his brand has taken a beating. Cleveland fans can’t trash talk him enough. Any attempt he’s made to better his image is immediately counteracted by an angry fan’s cry of hatred. On December 2nd, the time has come for James to really face the impact of his decision as the Heat takes on the Cavaliers in his former turf. Will this game only prove worse for his brand or will the tune of negativity change?
It will take more than one game for James to escape his image as a quitter in the eyes of Cleveland fans. Even leaving the Heat and returning to the Cavs probably wouldn’t change his reputation. Before his decision was announced during an hour long television special, James was making news for his Twitter account. In just 7 hours, he had already exceeded 150,000 followers.
Up until his anouncement, and still now, James was a popular basketball player. Even those who didn’t follow sports had heard of LeBron James. He was great. He had the makings of a legend and the people of Cleveland couldn’t get enough of him. After all, he was known as King James–a name left remembered through his Twitter account.
Yet, leading up to his free agency announcement, his brand began to dwindle. Fans were on edge, unsure if he would really betray them. His crown was taken from him right after he let down so many of his fans. Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavs, accused James of quitting long ago. His hurtful message to the player circulated the news and Internet for weeks–James couldn’t escape it. Gilbert told fans: “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE”. LeBron has been seen as a quitter ever since by the Cleveland fans, likely affecting his so far disappointing start with the Heat.
LeBron tried to save some face by showing fans his point of view. With Nike, he created a commercial asking fans what they wanted from him; he made every accusation sound like a joke and attempted to show he did the right thing for himself. While the commercial was clearly an attempt by LeBron to save some face and hopefully get some laughs or understanding from basketball fans, it quickly became a joke. Cleveland fans aren’t taking his betrayal lightly, and quickly countered his commercial with their own. Many YouTube videos surfaced lashing out at LeBron, creating their own spoofs of his commercial. Looking through the comments alone, it’s clear fans from Cleveland and otherwise are hoping to see the Cavaliers take down the Heat in a huge way. Since July, LeBron’s only fans seem to be those cheering for the Heat–and lately even those fans have been disappointed.
James Taking the Heat
Despite all the positive energy LeBron brought to the Cavs, regardless of all the high scores and good plays in the games, his leaving the Cavs will always be remembered. LeBron was always one to live in the spotlight, and he did just that after leaving for the Heat: he was portrayed negatively and most commonly labeled as a traitor, quitter, backstabber, etc. In the blink of an eye, James went from upholding a rather positive brand with the support of many to a total collapse of his image.
There isn’t much to be done for his brand, but to sit and wait it out. His attempts to find himself in at least a better situation with Cleveland and former fans have all failed. Those who used to cheer loudly for their king have fled the kingdom and now have nothing but words of hate. LeBron will have to live with his decision for a long time to come, and it will overshadow his accomplishments likely until his former fans feel some form of retribution. Until then, hopefully LeBron lives by the motto “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Cleveland fans have plenty of bad words for him.