LeBron James: Really a villain brand?

A lot has been written and said about LeBron James and his famous decision to sign with the Miami Heat. So why address this topic now? Hasn’t everything been said about “the decision?” My answer is “no”, because nobody looked at this issue from brand strategy perspective. So let’s put our branding goggles and see whether James is a villain, indeed.

Less than a year ago, James was the beloved hero, who was supposed to become the next Jordan. People in Ohio believed he was the “chosen one”. But, when he signed with the Heat, “the hero” became “the villain” overnight. Right now, the consensus around the league is that LeBron James is a super villain (because he is super talented.) Even James himself admitted that he embraced that role. And from a pure brand strategy point of view, I think people are wrong.

According to Carol Pearson’s archetype theory, a legendary athlete like LeBron James is a “hero brand.” Heroes are magnetic characters, because they are the courageous beacons of positive change. Every hero has a journey, and what makes a hero great is actually the greatness of his journey. Such journeys are most admirable when the hero stands up to an antagonist. For instance, what made Michael Jordan the greatest “hero athlete brand” ever was not his talent but his stories of perseverance. He stood up against the Bad Boys, and then he did it against the Knicks. He won the slam-dunk competition twice by beating his best rivals. He admitted that he created false enemies to stay motivated. But, no matter what challenge he took on, he persevered, and became the measuring stick for other hero brands like LeBron James.

Heroes are achievement-oriented. They demonstrate a winning attitude. Simply put, a hero must win at all cost. Unfortunately, that is the curse of the hero. Whatever he did in Cleveland, the number six (the number of rings Jordan won) would hold LeBron hostage. In order to win, he either had to persevere… Or take the easy way out. LeBron did the latter. And that is precisely why people don’t adore him anymore. He is not a villain and never will. Kids wanted to become like LeBron, a hero. Yet, by signing with the Heat he simply betrayed people’s inner hero! He is booed wherever he goes, not because he chose a bigger market, but because people felt like they could not persevere themselves. Therefore, I think no matter how many rings he wins (and he will win a lot, because he is too talented), he will be perceived as a hero, who took the easy way out.

LeBron’s journey will never be complete. It is a pity because he had a perfect story written for him: Break the curse of a city! That would have been a hero story to be told for generations. Fire up your comments!


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Soydanbay says:

    Here is a related article: http://cultureby.com/2010/10/lebron-james-sacrificial-hero.html

  2. ohio okhai says:

    how come this did not show up on my mail? will be back like 23

  3. Soydanbay says:


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