For most people in America and even beyond, the last week or so has brought an almost unavoidable ‘news’ bombardment of the contract decisions of a group of NBA players.
In short, a group of guys who can play basketball pretty well became unemployed on July 1st and had to look for new jobs. Their skills dictated that the country’s top teams were competing to become their new employers (wouldn’t that be nice!) and much was made of which teams they would end up playing for.
The most discussed and eagerly anticipated of them all was one LeBron James, a 25 year old man from Akron, Ohio who oh-so-humbly calls himself ‘King James’.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the decision this young man had to make is a VERY difficult one. Wherever he chose to play basketball, he would be under contract for at least three years. A decision which would affect his whole life, his family and his friends and which could alter his career and his future forever.
Teams were offering him ridiculously large sums of money to play for them, none more so than his previous team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who could offer him a whopping $30 Million more than anyone else.
He had become a beloved figure in Ohio, with Nike even going as far as to put up a billboard 110 feet high and 212 feet wide (yes, that’s a total of 23,320 square feet, or the equivalent square footage of over a dozen average sized homes) with his picture on it and around the world he is idolized, praised and exalted for his God-given abilities and the hard work he has put in to hone them almost to perfection.
When you’re as good a basketball player as LeBron James, you really don’t need to do any self-promotion as your skills do all the talking you need. Basketball is a business as well as a sport though and it’s one where talented players can easily be taken advantage of, used and then discarded if they don’t take some control of their own personal ‘brand’.
A Step Too Far
I don’t begrudge Mr James taking sponsorship deals and carefully managing his public image. In fact, in many ways I think he would be careless not to do so, however, I think there comes a point where healthy self-promotion ends and something darker begins.
The decision he had to make was quite possibly the hardest of his life so far and so taking his time to weigh the options is perfectly understandable, but setting up an hour-long televised press conference to announce his decision to the world, as if it were a world-changing moment, revolted me.
What’s worse is that people lapped it up, with the live broadcast on ESPN of this ‘momentous’ occasion drawing a huge audience.
in 1995, when returning from retirement, one of the greatest basketball player ever simply sent a two word faxed press release which read “I’m Back.” In those two words, there’s a declaration of intent, a suggestion of relevance (and even greatness), an understated elegance and a measure of humility – a whole world away from the pompous spectacle created by LeBron James and his team this week.
Enough is Enough
If Team James had been trying to demonstrate how to have an over-inflated opinion of ones self and the most tasteless, vain way to promote your own ‘brand’, then they did an excellent job.
Self-promotion is essential in this media-driven world but let LeBron James’ actions be a lesson to us all that there is a point where enough is enough, a line that should not be crossed and the key is finding that point and staying firmly the right side of it.