The Blog Aesthetic won’t comment on the surreal, bizarre, hype-induced PR spectacle that generated from LeBron “The Decision” James, er, decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers pro basketball franchise to join the rival Miami Heat. To sum up, LeBron James, the best player in the NBA today, took advantage of his free agency status to switch teams. In turn, several franchises fell over each other to leverage their home towns to woo James (and other stars), often rather pathetically but nevertheless in the spirit of full-bore business competition.
James’s decision to announce his decision on his own puff-piece TV special titled “The Decision” was derided as classless, arrogant, and self-serving to the core. And when you’ve made $90 million even before scoring your first pro points, avarice gets thrown in the mix. With an economy still in the tank and staggering job losses nationally, greed is an impossible image to reconcile with the cry for fairness and sportsmanship.
That being said, the public relations perspective is to consider the impact on all stakeholders. Surely that includes rightly disappointed Cleveland fans, even if they did show their anger in appalling ways.
But within the city is another key stakeholder – the Cavaliers franchise, and namely the team owner, Dan Gilbert. If you’re on the line for hundred million dollar decisions that make/break city economies and reputations, how should you react when you don’t get your way?
Gilbert apparently thinks that being negative, cruel, and petulant – truly living up to the name “Cavalier” – is the best way to go. And that is how a PR disaster is born.
Gilbert should have used his position to express strong disappointment with the decision, but also to take the high road and wish James well. By throwing other similar themes into a statement, he would have validated the stern disapproval that many sports commentators gave James for his decision. Such a message would have been capped very nicely with a call to the city and the team to look forward, play hard, and know that no single person is bigger than any sports franchise. That is what a “team” is about, right?
Instead, Gilbert issued a harsh and incendiary open-letter to Cleveland, where he called James “cowardly …. shameful …. disloyal …. heartless …. callous” and explained how “bad karma” will follow him to Miami. Beyond acting like an immature baby over the episode, Gilbert gets himself into a total contradiction – in blasting James with short-sighted taunts, Gilbert says that James “sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn.”
With this ill-advised rant, Gilbert has managed the impossible – shifting the media narrative away from James and instead to a tone-deaf wealthy team owner who cries foul when people don’t do his every bidding.
Gilbert can start getting on the right PR track by (1) issuing an apology for his remarks, and (2) focusing on the positive, not the negative. Until he take those basic two steps, his team remains indefinitely cursed.