From “The Decision” to “The Email,” we have seen transition and growth from new Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James.
To truly understand, you must rewind to James’ biggest career crisis on July 8, 2010, when he announced, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat” as a worldwide audience watched on ESPN.
Do you remember the outrage and emotion after The Decision? It was not all bad for ESPN, as it drew a high rating with nearly 10 million viewers. Also, $6 million was raised for charity from the proceeds of the show and commercials. But Cleveland Cavaliers fans’ hearts were broken. Some cried, while others burned James’ No. 23 jersey. About the only place in the Cleveland area that still loved James was his hometown of Akron.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote an angry open letter saying his franchise would win a championship before the “self-declared former King,” described him as selfish, heartless and callous, and called the move a “cowardly betrayal.” NBA commissioner David Stern would later fine Gilbert $100,000 for the letter. The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Gilbert’s email “personified a slave master’s mentality.”
The Q Scores Company listed James as the sixth-most disliked sports personality behind, coincidentally, fellow African-American athletes Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco and Kobe Bryant. Forbes.com listed James second in an article on the Most Disliked NBA Players on Dec. 21, 2011. Topping the list was New Jersey Nets forward Kris Humphries, who divorced Kim Kardashian after 72 days of marriage.
After the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, James made matters worse by telling the media, “All the people who are rooting for me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They got the same personal problems they had, today. And I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do with me and my family.”
While James was mostly winning on the court, he needed help off the court with his image — fast. Several months after the Finals tirade, he hired renowned publicist Adam Mendelsohn, who specialized in brand, crisis and media strategy. Mendelsohn was the former deputy chief of staff to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and also helped Fortune 50 companies, CEOs and celebrities in the entertainment and athletic world. With Mendelsohn by James’ side, the drama quieted down for the man called “The Chosen One” in high school.
After winning two titles with the Heat, James shocked the NBA world again by going back to the Cavaliers. There was no television show this time, however. Instead, James wrote a heartfelt letter in Sports Illustrated on July 11, 2014, “I’m Coming Back to Cleveland.” It was important for James at that time to explain his return and his departure from Miami, a source said.
“My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio,” James wrote.
Miami fans were upset for a moment before realizing they still had the beach and sunshine. As for the Cavaliers fans and Cleveland, they instantly forgave James, celebrated the homecoming and this time cried tears of joy. Downtown Cleveland restaurants and bars were certainly happy to see him back. The hate for James died down with the decision to go home.
James went on to fulfill his dream of bringing the first NBA championship to Cleveland in 2016. Times have certainly changed, as James is widely beloved as the NBA’s best player and it is often argued whether he or Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time.
James is now viewed as a great husband, father and philanthropist affecting the youth positively. Forbes.com reported that James earned $86.2 million in salary and endorsements in 2017 and was eclipsed only by soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo ($93 million). About the only thing that might have lost James some fans has been his verbal disdain for President Donald Trump, which may have gained fans in the process.
As big as the World Cup is, James had the ability to take over the American sports spotlight with his pending decision with the arrival of free agency on July 1. Longtime San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Ann Killion tweeted that James had better not announce his decision during the World Cup. James actually did not want anything resembling The Decision in announcing where he would be playing next.
“LeBron didn’t want a circus, drama or the media,” a source with his camp said. “LeBron didn’t want a lot of drama. He wanted it to be clean too.”
So instead, James and his camp decided several weeks ago to go old school in announcing his decision, according to the source. It would be in a press release through his agent Rich Paul’s agency, Klutch Sports, if he chose to depart from Cleveland. James’ decision was to be announced in a short statement with an email attachment. There would be no quote. It was to be sent to about 50 NBA writers and the Cavaliers’ beat writers, a source said. The statement ends with three number signs, which was an old press release way of signifying the end. If James chose to return to the Cavaliers, the source said, he planned on having a news conference in Cleveland.
It was 8:05 p.m. EDT on July 1 when the email was sent to select NBA and Cavaliers reporters from the sender: Info@KlutchGroup.com. The subject read: “Klutch Statement Press Release Re: LeBron James.” It was not previously planned for a certain day or time, but rather the right time, a source said.
“The Email” read: “Please see attached. Klutch Sports Group.” The Klutch Sports Group attached letter inside the email read: “For Immediate Release: LeBron James, a three time finals MVP, fourteen time NBA All Star, and two time Olympic gold medalist has agreed to four year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.”
It was simple with no quote, as planned. It probably had to be read two or three times by the media for authenticity and to believe it. But the message was clear: James was going to the Lakers, and no explanation points or television show were needed. It was a simple and mature move for James at 33 years old that was certainly much better played than The Decision at age 25. James would later express his love for Cleveland and Cavaliers fans on Instagram.
Perhaps Cleveland prepared itself mentally for this, but the response to James’ departure was not angry this time around. Gilbert wrote a positive thank-you note in an email and even said James’ No. 23 jersey would be retired. Longtime Cleveland sports columnist Terry Pluto wrote a column on Cleveland.com, “LeBron James earned right to leave Cleveland Cavaliers.” The national response to James in a Lakers uniform was of excitement and wonder, not anger and confusion.
James has been in the spotlight since he was a teenager. Even so, Los Angeles brings a media monster like no other. Outlets will be everywhere trying to film King James, his family, friends and business confidants. It will be a big local sports story if, as rumored, LeBron James Jr. plays for California basketball power Sierra Canyon High School with Scottie Pippen Jr. and Kenyon Martin Jr. The media horde at Lakers home and road games and practices may even eclipse when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were around.
But after overcoming The Decision and maturing to The Email, a well-prepared James surely has his Los Angeles strategy figured out. For example, James’ first local media questions will have to wait until Lakers media day in late September. However, his next appearance will be in Akron on July 30 when his foundation opens his new school, I Promise School.
Yes, a lot has changed since The Decision.